Commentary

A Call to Combat Abuse and Smuggling in Balikbayan Boxes: Not One Man’s Duty

Commentary

A Call to Combat Abuse and Smuggling in Balikbayan Boxes: Not One Man’s Duty

The Problem

The issue on the apparent smuggling and abuse of the balikbayan boxes that created a drama, involving the Bureau of Customs (BOC); the Pnoy government and its critics; and the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) these past few weeks, had reached a triangle of mixed emotions.

As a result, the BOC issued a statement on implementing a stricter rule on inspection of the boxes. On the other hand, OFW around the world had been united in expressing their rage against the new rule and used the media like Facebook and Twitter to call the attention of the president to counteract the new protocol. At first the president supported the BOC’s call on combating the smuggling issue but eventually ordered the BOC to stop the opening of the balikbayan boxes.

Balikbayan boxes are duty and tax-free packages designed for Overseas Filipino Workers to send home gifts to their families. Unfortunately, smugglers are using these boxes to avoid tax, and thus the government claims loss of money. Indirectly, OFWs are also affected by this unfair and illegal business. OFWs are paying taxes, but smugglers (big or small) are not.

Some OFWs are also part of the headache by not declaring their goods properly, and intentionally or unintentionally being ignorant of the policy. The cargo agents should be stricter and bolder in implementing the policy. My family experienced a delay of more than six months in receiving our balikbayan box, which normally reaches the recipient in 2-4 weeks. The problem occurred because our box was placed in a container together with other misdeclared balikbayan boxes. The other boxes contain goods obviously for commercial purposes.

Trapos and Immature Voters

Most critics of the government are just riding along with the issue. After the emotions are gone they too are nowhere to be found. This is an old tactic by the ‘trapos’ (traditional politicians), but may still work for the immature and emotionally-laden voters.

The comments we heard from politicians, newscasters, partylist leaders are nothing but an echo of what was already said by the OFWs. Nothing’s new.

THEY ARE JUST USING THE ISSUE TO SHOW THAT “THEY SEEM TO CARE”, hoping that OFWs will remember them in the election.

Smart voters will surely turn their heads to whoever provides a better solution.

If our government really care they should provide a solution. If someone from the critics can provide a better solution which the government can’t at this time, then that will make strong statement against those in the position; and thus a hard slap on their face.

As far as my memory is concerned, one Senator provided a sound suggestion so far. His recommendations are to add more and bigger x-ray machines and to increase the tax exemption limit from $500 to $2000. This may not be the best solution yet but at least he attempted to provide some direction.

“Smuggling Pa More”

The statement that BOC should focus more on big-time smugglers will not solve the problem. It is like telling the government to close their eyes whenever there is an apparent smuggling in the balikbayan boxes. It is actually cuddling the problem instead of solving it.

Pnoy’s instruction to the BOC to stop opening a box unless it passed through the x-ray machines and found suspicious contents is not even new at all. BOC can still open the box, and may just reason out that they found suspicious contents. That’s the same rule and procedure as before. But with President Aquino’s recent directive, officers in the BOC will be more cautious in dealing with the boxes.

Let’s Think of a Better Solution

To my fellow OFWs, tax-free and duty-free balikbayan box is our privilege. Smugglers are abusing it and we are affected. Solely criticizing the government is not the best contribution we can make. We cannot wait for another election to put your favorite politician in the position to fix the issue. If you have any solution, then voice it out now. Let us act now so that we can still enjoy this sacred privilege and let’s not allow smugglers to use and abuse it.

Whenever there is a crisis, we need suggestions and solutions more than anything else.

To the negative thinkers, to the politicians, to those in the position, and to fellow OFWs, there is a problem. What is our solution?

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