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Quashed Plan for Stricter Inspection on Balikbayan Boxes A Victory for OFWs, but the struggle against the “legalized extortion” continues – Migrante Alberta

News Release

Quashed Plan for Stricter Inspection on Balikbayan Boxes A Victory for OFWs, but the struggle against the “legalized extortion” continues – Migrante Alberta
As the ber season in the Philippines approaches, the influx of goodies and presents contained in balikbayan boxes coming from thousands, if not millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) increase.

That thousands of OFWs cried foul over the Bureau of Customs attempt to implement a more rigorous inspection on balikbayan boxes show how abused they feel by the same government who benefit from their remittances.

The BOC was set to implement a stricter inspection that it claimed would benefit the government in terms of saving at least P50 million in uncollected taxes due to taxable goods in balikbayan boxes. The other objective was to curb smuggling of illegal goods that are sent in these packages.

Approximately 5.5 million balikbayan boxes arrive in the Philippines annually. This number increases as the number of OFWs who leave the country also increases – now pegged at 6,000 daily according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). Consequently, thousands of OFW cried foul over the BOC’s new policy.

Balikbayan boxes are symbolic of Filipino migrants’ and their families’ struggle and aspirations to bring a better future for their loved ones. Contained in these carton boxes are the sweats of the toiling OFW, in the form of material things that their meager salaries could buy. These gifts are symbolic of the sacrifices and connections OFWs try to keep with their families back home.

The BOC, among the many Philippine government agencies, has a tainted reputation for being corrupt. Horror stories of how goods in balikbayan boxes never found their way to the recipients are not news. Bayan Muna Partlist representative Neri Colmenares said the agency should instead curb immense corruption from within and go after big-time smugglers rather than harassing OFWs.

The irregularities further come to light when Colmenares recalls how the BOC could have allowed tons of garbage to be imported into the country from Canada, and turn against its own citizens from around the world with their small balikbayan boxes.

Migrante Partylist in its petition had indicated that the BOC did implement an increase of P40,000 per container clearing fee last July 27 and is set to impose another wave of increase in October reportedly without consultation from stakeholders such as freight forwarders. A P100,000 increase would translate to approximately USD $7 added cost per balikbayan box.

Migrante Alberta joins the thousands of OFWs, their families and all of those who opposed this anti-migrant policy and won their victory and vowed to continue its fight against this “legalized extortion”.

While there have been uncapped state exactions on overseas workers, the government remains deaf to the demands of OFWs. In Alberta alone, the call for a consular office based in the province to service the more than 100,000 Filipinos has been ignored.  The DFA through its Legislative Liaison Unit, acknowledged that opening a full-time Consulate General in Calgary will benefit the Filipinos in the area. It said, “the Department sees the merit of opening a full-time Consulate General in Calgary given the number of Filipinos in the area as well as its physical distance from Vancouver, Canada” and “shall be considered in 2016 after a universal review of our network of Foreign Service Posts during the DFA Strategic Plan Review in 2015.” But the 2016 proposed budget did not reflect the Department of Foreign Affairs’ statement of support to include a new consular office in Alberta.

Migrante Alberta, in support of millions of OFWs in turn, we demand full, stricter inspection of the BOC’s proposed 2016 budget before the congress and the senate. We reiterate to the BOC and the Philippine government, hands off our balikbayan box, no to taxation, no to inspection!

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