Press Release
July 24, 2017

Recto sees red tape in new Balikbayan Box rules; calls Congress oversight panel to review new rules

As complaints mount against unreasonable documentary requirements in the sending of balikbayan boxes, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has called for the immediate "activation and convening" of a joint Senate-House oversight committee that will review the law's implementation.

Recto said 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 if 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) on how an overseas Filipino can send home a balikbayan box include a requirement to paste on the box a detailed list of contents, and put inside the purchase receipts of brand-new goods.

Recto 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 rid it of its contents."

"Ang pangamba nga ng isang OFW, kapag nilista, baka maramaing matukso kasi parang sinulat mo na rin na 'take me I'm yours'", he said.

"Dito sa Pilipinas, you can trust almost all of the forwarders to treat the box carefully because they have a business and reputation to protect. Pero kung paano in transit at wala pa sa jurisdiction ng Pilipinas?" he said.

While he recognizes the right of BoC to impose rules to ensure that duty-free balikbayan box privileges are not abused by "smugglers", the rules must, however, be designed in a way that they will not inconvenience the greater number of overseas Filipino.

"Yung mga unneeded, frivolous requirements na magpapahirap sa mga OFWs, tanggalin na ang mga yan. Yung mga rules that will increase the vulnerability of the boxes being tampered with, out na rin dapat yan," he said.

"Ang general principle ay okay lang na merong reglamento pero huwag mahirap at huwag marami. At dapat mga rules na magpapabilis at hindi magpapabagal," he said.

Recto 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 balikbayan boxes, whose contents are not intended for barter and sale and as long as they are not worth P150,000.

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 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 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.

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