By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent

Sen. Sonny Angara warned against the opening of balikbayan boxes as he reminded the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to strictly implement the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) that mandates less intrusive examination of balikbayan boxes brought in to the country.

He noted that it is clear  in the law that balikbayan boxes cannot just be opened or tampered.

“We pushed for this law in response to the complaints of our OFWs and their families that some items in their balikbayan boxes were allegedly stolen or damaged upon inspection,” Angara said.

Under the implementing rules on balikbayan boxes, all deconsolidators must establish its own customs facility and warehouse equipped with CCTVs and baggage x-ray machine for the examination of balikbayan boxes.

All baggage x-ray facilities shall be under the control and supervision of the BoC, and only trained BoC personnel shall be allowed to operate the baggage x-ray machines.

“We are hopeful that with this law in place, this will never happen again,” said Angara. He exhorted the BoC to take care and respect the balikbayan boxes as they contained what our countrymen have worked hard abroad so they can send them to their love ones  in the Philippines.

Angara, sponsor of  the CMTA or Republic Act 10863, which also provides for higher tax exemption of balikbayan boxes, said that under the  2016 law, balikbayan boxes sent by any Filipino worker or resident abroad not exceeding PHP 150,000 in value are exempted from taxes and duties.

Before the CMTA was enacted, the tax exemption ceiling for balikbayan boxes was only at PHP 10,000.

According to the BoC, the number of balikbayan boxes shipped to the country (around 400,000 every month) doubles during the Christmas season.

The amended implementing rules on balikbayan boxes was only released by the BoC in August this year. The BoC revised its guidelines after receiving criticisms last year regarding its tedious requirements for overseas Filipinos to avail of the tax incentive.

Under the old guidelines, Filipinos abroad must submit an itemized list with the total value of the contents of the balikbayan box, together with copies of receipts, and a photocopy of their passport.

With the revised rules, receipts will only by submitted “if available” along with a photocopy of any of these documents: passport, resident ID, overseas employment certificate or OWWA card, work permit, or any other equivalent ID.