President Benigno Aquino III has given instructions to the Bureau of Customs to stop the random physical inspections of “balikbayan” boxes.
The president also asked the BOC to come up with “a more defined protocol” to help with the prevention of smuggling in connection to “balikbayan” boxes.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima read the instructions from the president to the BOC.
Instructions from Aquino are as follows:
- That “balikbayan” boxes will not be subjected to any random or arbitrary physical inspection
- At no cost to the sender or OFW, all boxes are to undergo mandatory X-ray and K-9 examination
- “Balikbayan” are only allowed to be physically examined in cases where X-ray or K-9 examinations reveal derogatory findings
- The BOC shall, in case of an inspection, request for an overseas welfare administration or OWWA representative or a designative officer of an OFW association as witness together with CCTV monitoring of areas included in the inspection
Employees caught in violation of the directive will be prosecuted and punished.
“We encourage the public to submit videos and photographic evidence of illegal acts to the commissioner of customs,” the order stated.
In a meeting with Purisima and Customs Commissioner Alberto D. Lina, on Monday afternoon, the president stressed that, “OFW families view the balikbayan box as an integral part of the family relationship to nurture loved ones at home and as a tangible sign of their love and concern for their family members.”
Purisima also added that Aquino emphasized, “the reality that more often than not, the only people who know what are in the boxes are the people who send them and the family members who receive them”.
The finance chief, however, noted, “ there have been instances when unscrupulous individuals have used balikbayan boxes to break the law, and placed the greater community at risk. For example, gun parts, ammunition and gun accessories were found in seven balikbayan boxes; 81,529 tablets of anti-anxiety drugs were mis-declared as food supplements in November 2014; 413 Casio G-Shock watches; and even a custom Harley Davidson Chopper motorcycle of a Hollywood scriptwriter in 2011; among other high end car parts were also delivered through balikbayan boxes”.
“Therefore it is incumbent on the State to uphold its duty to protect our people. But in doing so there should be no contradiction between the need to ensure the implementation of the law, the promotion of the security of the country, and the rights and privileges of our people,” said Purisima.
Purisima also said, “At present there are an estimated 1,500 containers of balikbayan boxes a month, translating to around 18,000 containers a year, or around 7.2 million boxes. Inspections are made on the basis of actual intelligence of a potential violation or threat.”