I was an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) for 15 years, having worked in countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. There are around ten million OFWs, and the so-called balikbayan boxes are symbols of their ubiquity.
Balikbayan boxes are shipped cargo boxes that usually contain personal effects, goods, and gifts or “pasalubongs” sent by OFWs to their relatives and friends back home in the Philippines. It’s a Filipino tradition or culture that enhance, promote, preserve, and maintain a strong family ties through love and caring expressed in gift-giving or mere thoughtfulness.
This week, the Bureau of Customs announced that it will soon open and inspect all incoming balikbayan boxes as a way to prevent or to intercept boxes being used to smuggle taxable commercial and illegal goods to our country. I strongly believe that the proposal is wrong, plain and simple. Below are my reasons for saying so:
1. IT MIGHT LEAD TO TEMPTATIONS
We are all familiar with the tendency of some employees in the Philippine Postal Corporation to engage in ‘buriki,’ which is the act of opening sealed packages with the aim of stealing its contents. Opening balikbayan boxes will expose the hard-earned items sent by OFWs to the same risk.
2. QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES? (Who will guard the guardians?)
How will we know that not a single will be taken away or replaced? How about planting of something that could be used against the sender and/or the receiver?
3. THERE ARE BIGGER FISH TO CATCH
Big-time smuggling of high-value items such as luxury cars, oil and fuel, and even agricultural products cost the government so much more in lost revenues. So, why is the government training its guns on hapless OFWs?
4. IT WILL FURTHER DELAY THE PROCESSING OF PACKAGES
Unreasonable delays in the processing and delivery of cargo boxes has been a nagging problem for families with relatives overseas, especially during the holiday season. This BOC proposal will no doubt cause further delays.
1. OFWs need to be educated about the consequences on our economy of bringing imported taxable commercial and illegal goods.
Government can include this during Pre-Departure Orientation & Seminar (PDOS) and it can also disseminate the information through the media, particularly the Internet.
2. Encourage local business (SM Mall, Robinson Mall, Ayala, San Miguel, et.al.) to create a BALIKBAYAN type shopping gimmick (local goods with or w/out tax) for families of OFW payable via money transfer or loan scheme.