By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on July 24 called for the immediate “activation and convening” of a joint Senate-House oversight committee to review the implementation of the law governing balikbayan boxes.
He cited mounting complaints against the unreasonable documentions required by the Bureau of Customs to send balikbayan boxes.
The Congressional Customs and Tariff Oversight Committee, which is mandated to monitor the proper implementation of Republic Act 10863, which pegs at P150,000 the total annual value of tax-free balikbayan box shipments, “is the right group to probe if the rules are indeed unreasonable.”
“We should review it. Because of the complicated requirements, balikbayan boxes will be wrapped in red tape,” Recto said.
The oversight committee’s convening is also made urgent “by the crisis in Marawi, in order for us to find out if the rules and the system allowing for the duty-free shipment of donated relief goods to evacuees, as provided for in RA 10863, are already in place.”
Recto issued the call after newly released rules by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) included a requirement to paste on the box a detailed list of contents, including the purchase receipts of brand-new goods in the box.
The Senator said he shares “the apprehension of many OFWs that attaching a list of contents is tantamount to providing a keyhole that might tempt unscrupulous handlers to open it and (haul off with) its contents.”
Here in the Philippines, Recto said, you can trust almost all of the forwarders to treat the box carefully because they have a business and reputation to protect.
While he recognizes the right of BoC to impose rules to ensure that duty-free balikbayan box privileges are not abused by “smugglers,” he said the rules must, however, be designed in a way that they will not inconvenience the greater number of overseas Filipino.
He said the unneeded, frivolous requirements that burden OFWs should be eliminated. The rules that increase the risk of tampering should also be removed.
“The general principle, it is just alright to have a requirement but it should not be difficult and many. And there should be rules that will expedite and not hamper,” said Recto.
He said it will be the duty of the oversight committee to make a finding if the BoC , in its 22-page Customs Memorandum Order No. 04-2017 which implements Sec. 800 (g) of RA 10863, or the Customs and Modernization and Tariff Act or CMTA , “committed a bureaucratic overreach. ”
Section 800 (g) of CMTA allows OFWs and other Filipinos residing abroad to bring in or send to their families in the Philippines tax-free balikbayanboxes, whose contents are not intended for barter and sale and as long as they are not worth PHP 150,000.
OFWs can avail of this privilege a maximum of three times in a calendar year.
Another concern of Recto is the status of Section 120 of the CMTA, regarding “relief consignment,” or goods such as food, medicine, equipment, shelter materials for free distribution to or for 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.
“Because the balikbayan box rules limit the consignees to relatives of senders, what is the rule to be followed if a kind-hearted 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.
BoC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon insisted that the requirement for “balikbayan box” senders to submit an itemized list of contents will not be a burden, contrary to the fears and concerns of a good number of OFWs. He said it will not take an hour to write the items inside the balikbayan boxes,” Faeldon pointed out.
Under the Memorandum Order 04-2017, signed last January 20 entitled Guidelines on the Implementation of Customs Administrative Order (CAO) No. 05-2016 on Consolidated Shipment of Duty and Tax-Free “Balikbayan Boxes” with Revised Information Sheet, Filipino senders abroad need to fill up a sheet, itemizing the contents of their package and its estimated or actual prices.
The BoC clarified that sensors will only be required to provide receipts for items that were purchased with receipts, otherwise they just have to state its estimated value.
According to the CAO, the sheet that the Filipino senders need to fill out contains the sender ‘s information, the recipient’s information, and itemized description of goods.
The CAO stated that it aims to “prescribe simplified customs clearance procedures for consolidated shipment of ‘balikbayan boxes’ sent by qualified Filipinos while abroad to their families or relatives, especially the OFWs in recognition of their significant contribution to the Philippine economy.