BOC told to right errors in balikbayan box rules, easy entry of disaster relief

The lawmaker who was the first to point out the tedious requirements in shipping balikbayan boxes today praised the order of Commissioner Isidro  Lapena to freeze the Bureau of Customs’ guidelines on tax-free packages sent home by OFWs “as a blow against red tape.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said “common sense won” when the newly-named Customs chief suspended on Oct. 3 the requirements for balikbayan box senders to fill up an information sheet, submit a photocopy of their Philippine passport, and purchase invoices of goods to be shipped.

When the now recalled guidelines first came out in July, Recto warned that BOC’s order for senders to paste a list of contents on the box “was tantamount to providing a keyhole that might tempt unscrupulous handlers to open it and rid it of its contents.”

“Kung sobrang itemized, parang sinulat mo na rin na ‘Open me, I’m yours,’” Recto said. “I concede that there must be rules, but not so complicated that the box ends up being wrapped in red tape.”

Amid OFW outcry, Lapena pulled out Customs Administrative Order  (CAO) 5-2016, which tightened controls on balikbayan boxes, and CAO 04-2017, which aligned balikbayan privileges with RA 10683, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), and ordered their review.

Recto welcomed the review as an opportunity to purge the current guidelines of “bureaucratic overreach and a wrong interpretation of the law.”

“It is clear in the CMTA, and in the debate records of the House and the Senate, that an OFW can send home, tax- and duty-free, a balikbayan box valued not more than P150,000 three times a year,” Recto said.

Recto said the previous BOC management “wrongfully read the cap on the privilege as P150,000 a year, when that amount is per shipment, which can be availed of three times annually.”

Another concern of Recto is one provision in the CMTA which has a bearing on the “Marawi crisis, the typhoons which hit us, and our misfortune of being at the receiving end of calamities — man-made and natural.”

Recto said Section 120 of the CMTA deals with “relief consignment” or goods such as food, medicine, equipment, shelter materials for free distribution to or use of victims of calamities.

Under the law, “clearance of relief consignment shall be a matter of priority and subject to a simplified customs procedure,” Recto said.

“These shipments must be cleared beyond the designated office and shall be waived of corresponding charges. The examination of goods are allowed only in exceptional circumstances,” he said.

“Halimbawa na lang : If balikbayan box rules limit the consignees to relatives of senders, what is the rule to be followed if a kindhearted OFW sends a package to a non-relative in Marawi?” he said.

Under the law, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Welfare and Development shall jointly issue the rules and regulations on relief consignment.

“Hopefully meron na, so that when governments and citizens of predominantly Muslim nations will send aid to Marawi, either by barges or by boxes, the rules are already in place,” he said.

Recto authored and campaigned for a law raising the tax-exempt value of balikbayan boxes.

This resulted in Section 800 (g) of CMTA which allows OFWs and other Filipinos residing abroad to bring in or send to their families in the Philippines tax-free balikbayan boxes, whose contents are not intended for barter and sale, and as long as they are not worth P150,000.

Related article: Bureau of Customs commissioner Lapeña must hit smugglers hard