Angara, Bam score Faeldon on OFWs boxes

SENATORS Bam Aquino and Sonny Angara have chided Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon over his alleged strict policies on balikbayan boxes being sent by migrant workers while allowing contrabands like illegal drugs pass unhampered in the agency’s so-called super green lane.

In separate statements, Senators Aquino and Angara have urged the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to give OFWs “breathing space” in processing their balikbayan boxes as a way of “doing justice to OFWs who remit billions of pesos every year."

The legislators were referring to the implementation of Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) in which the boxes sent by OFWs to their relatives in the country are being subjected to strict scrutiny.

Sen. Aquino particularly chided the BOC for making it easy for big-time smugglers to bring in contrabands into the country while burdening overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with strict requirements in the entry of balikbayan boxes.

"Habang pinapahirapan ang mga OFWs na magpadala ng gamit sa kanilang mahal sa buhay, labas-masok naman ang kontrabando sa Super Green Lane (SGL)," said Sen. Bam, referring to the P6.4 billion shabu shipment what was allowed to pass through the Super Green Lanes (SGL).

Sen. Aquino also criticized the BOC's new rules on how overseas Filipino can send home a balikbayan box, including the posting of a detailed list of its content on the box and putting the receipts of items purchased inside.

"They leave the country to provide for their family and they keep our economy afloat. The government should allow them their privileges. They do not deserve the additional hassles and harassment," he said.


Ambiguity in the Rules

Sen. Angara also called on the DOF to clear up its implementing rules on duty and tax-free balikbayan boxes, under Customs Administrative Order No. 5-2016.

During an oversight committee hearing on the review of CMTA's implementation, Sen. Angara noted that the current rules state that "all balikbayan boxes per sender in any calendar year shall not exceed P150,000."

The IRR, he said, contradicts the intent of the law which provides that OFWs can send up to three P150,000-worth of tax and duty free balikbayan boxes, or not exceeding P450,000 in a year, given that the goods are not in commercial quantities.

"Ang intensyon ng CMTA ay gawing tax-free ang balikbayan boxes na may halagang P150,000 times 3 kada taon, at hindi P150,000 divided by 3. Ipinasa natin ang batas na ito bilang pagkilala sa laki ng kontribusyon ng ating mga OFW sa ating ekonomiya. Ibigay sana natin kung ano ang nararapat para sa kanila," Angara said.

DOF Assistant Secretary Mark Joven, during the hearing, explained that there is an "ambiguity" in the language of the law, hence the different interpretation of the Finance Department on the said provision.

Rep. Sharon Garin, a member of the oversight committee and who was part of the CMTA bicameral committee, said the DOF should have referred to the records of the bicam hearing in determining the intent of the law.

Angara noted that during the deliberation of the CMTA, it was revealed that an ordinary OFW usually sends a balikbayan box to his or her family every three or four months.

"Ang bawat balikbayan box ay karaniwang naglalaman ng P80,000 worth of items. Talagang pinag-iipunan po ito ng ating mga magigiting na OFW. Kung kaya, para dagdag pakunswelo sa kanila, ginawa nating P150,000 ang tax-free kada kahon," the senator said.

Angara has urged the DOF and the Bureau of Customs to immediately resolve the issues on the implementing rules of the balikbayan box law especially as Christmas season nears.



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