“To all migrante OFWs around the world, we are encouraging you to join this huge political action.”
By BRUCE KYLE MALLO
MANILA – Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are all set to suspend sending money to the Philippines for a “Zero Remittance Day” tomorrow, Aug. 28, in protest of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) inspection and taxation of balikbayan boxes.
“To all migrante OFWs around the world, we are encouraging you to join this huge political action to condemn the anomalous random inspection by the customs bureau. We have the power, we are capable. Let us be heard by Malacanang also in the wide platform of social media,” said Migrante partylist Chairperson Connie Regalado, at an Aug. 25 press conference held at their main office in Quezon City.
In the evening of Aug. 24, President Aquino ordered the BOC to halt its planned random opening of duty-free balikbayan boxes, following an outrage in social media by OFWs, who decried pilferage and other abuses by customs employees, on top of the tax burden.
“But what about the huge tax impositions on OFWs?” Regalado asked. She said that even if the random inspection order was withdrawn, the BOC’s target to get P600-million revenues ($13 million) from balikbayan boxes remains.
Social media was abuzz with OFW netizens calling the BOC as “mga magnanakaw, mga walanghiya, makakapal ang mukha” (thieves, shameless, thick-faced). A viral video even showed random physical inspections of balikbayan boxes by alleged customs officers.
Regalado said that Aquino’s order was still not enough, and that the Zero Remittance Day clamor came from ticked-off OFWs and Mirante chapters, an overseas Filipino workers rights and welfare group, all over the world.
Regalado said it was the P600-million target revenue that drove BOC commissioner Alberto Lina to push for such measures. She added that this was a tactic of the Aquino administration because of the nearing 2016 elections. Progressive groups have criticized the Aquino administration’s proposed budget and revenue-generation as designed for its own campaign spending for the 2016 election.
‘Probe Customs’ budget, plans’
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares called the BOC’s “backtracking” as “an initial victory of people’s protest.” He added that the BOC must still be probed on where it spent its huge budget for high-end X-ray machines and maintenance budget of K-9 units and other anti-smuggling equipment.
On Aug. 24, Colmenares and fellow Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate filed House Resolution 2315 calling on the Committee on overseas workers affairs to probe the BOC.
“How much revenue was lost by the BOC due to big-time smuggling of luxury cars, smuggled rice, container vans containing luxury items, including the status of 2,000 container vans reportedly lost by the BOC a number of years ago?” Colmenares said.
“President Aquino exempted international carriers from paying VAT in cargos. So, they exempted these international flag carriers, then you will impose more taxes on your OFWs?” Colmenares highlighted.
He said that it is unreasonable to further inspect the OFW balikbayan boxes if customs officials have already seen it on an x-ray first without anything looking suspicious.
He challenged the customs to inspect container vans that stores tons and tons of smuggled rice and canned goods and not the “insertion.”
“You will inspect P200 ($5) worth of canned goods in OFWs’ boxes? That is a very cheap smuggler,” he pointed out.
“The administration really has this sinister motive to open and impose tax on the goods of these balikbayan boxes. This is a lesson for us that we can push for our rights and welfare and that we can and should really push the government to back down on these anti-people policies,” he added.
“They ought to focus more on the legal assistance to the OFWs abroad who experience maltreatment from their employers, the huge impositions on travel tax and terminal fees. These are just some matters that can be triumphed by our OFWs if we are united,” Colmenares strongly suggested.
Stolen goods, wrecked Balikbayan boxes
Sherie Macmod, Migrante Partylist secretary general and an OFW in Taiwan shared the difficulties of an ordinary sender of a balikbayan box.
“It’s really very expensive to send a box even before putting anything into it. You have to pay for the size of the box and the forwarder already has a prize on it,” she said.
“It’s really cutting into our salaries further because of the government’s huge tax imposition. And when they search something from the box and find that ‘somewhat’ expensive, they will put tax on it. How will it reach our families if they keep on doing that,” she said.
“We also have cases of our co-OFWs who said that their boxes reach their homes already broken and wrecked. They even report some stolen goods and things such as shorts, chocolates, soaps,” she said.