OFW groups seek dialogue with BOC on balikbayan boxes
MANILA, Philippines – For overseas Filipino workers, the issue of balikbayan boxes is a serious matter.
OFW groups are seeking a dialogue with the Bureau of Customs after the agency reminded them about the items, quantity, and maximum value of goods that can be shipped to the Philippines using balikbayan boxes. (READ: 'Don't abuse balikbayan box privileges' – Customs)
In a statement released by the Blas Ople Center over the weekend, a coalition of OFW groups stressed the significance of sending balikbayan boxes to loved ones back home.
“Every balikbayan box is sacred to the OFW and his or her family. Pinaghirapang pag-ipunan at bilhin ang bawat nakalagay sa kahon na ‘yan – mula sapatos hanggang lotion, mula tuwalya hanggang de lata. At kung may mawala, sino ang managot sa nagpadala?" it asked.
(Every balikbayan box is sacred to the OFW and his or her family. Each item in that box is the product of hard work and scrimping – from from shoes to lotion, from towels to canned goods. If something goes missing, who will answer for it?)
Civil society organizations and OFW leaders make up the coalition, the same groups that protested the P550 terminal fee integration for OFWs.
The groups are the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, the OFW Family Party-List, United Filipino Seafarers, Blas F. Ople Policy Center, Filipino Migrant Workers Group, PEBA, Lito Soriano of LBS Recruitment Solutions, Global Asia Alliance Consultant, Inc, KAMPI and KAKAMPPI and Patnubay Online.
'Sacred to OFWs'
Former OFW-turned-businessman Lito Soriano said that for OFWs, balikbayan boxes are not just financial, but emotional investments. He recalled that when he was still working in Saudi Arabia, it took him anywhere from 5 to 7 months to fill a balikbayan box and send it home.
“Every Friday, which is the weekly day-off in Saudi Arabia, I would buy one to two items for my family until I have enough goods to send home to them. This is why a balikbayan box is so sacred to OFWs. It is an expression of love, and we always look forward to hearing about how its contents made our family happy," Soriano said.
Bhing Comiso of Pinoy Expat/OFW Bloggers Awards (PEBA), a former caregiver in Taiwan said: “Dugo at pawis ang nilalaan para mapuno ang balikbayan box. Ilang buwan ‘yon na bubunuin mo para mapuno. Tapos ang OFW pa mismo ang mag-aayos kasi may sense of belongingness sa pag-aayos ng box."
(Balikbayan boxes are filled with the blood and sweat of OFWs. It will take you months to fill it. Then the OFWs themselves fill it because there is a sense of belongingness in fixing the box.)
He added: "Pinapangalanan kung para kanino ang bawat item tapos bubuksan lang nila ng walang pakundangan. Simpleng bagay sa iba pero para sa amin, meaningful pati ang ayos at bawat nilalaman ng isang balikbayan box.”
(Each item is tagged with the name of the recipient, then they will just open it like that. It's simple for others, but for us it's meaningful – the organization and contents of a balikbayan box.)
The Ople Center said the coalition will take up with Customs officials the "dictatorial and arbitrary manner" which they have chosen to approach the balikbayan box issue.
Susan Ople of the Blas F Ople Policy Center said that this has "a very emotional issue for our OFWs."
"We would like to know firsthand from the BoC leadership what brought this controversy on. Kung nagkaroon lang sana ng public hearings or prior consultations, baka nga mismong mga OFWs ang tumulong sa ating pamahalaan para mas maging maayos ang sistema.”
(If we only had public hearings or prior consultations, maybe the OFWs themselves would be the ones helping our government improve the system)
The OFW groups expressed their desire to meet with Customs officials hours after Malacañang urged them to give feedback to the government on the balikbayan box issue. (READ: BOC reminder on balikbayan boxes vs smugglers, not OFWs)
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte made the call on Saturday, August 22. She clarified on that the BOC was prompted to impose tighter rules on balikbayan boxes to deter smuggling.
According to Valte, Customs officials discovered that some smugglers bring in parts of dismantled items in balikbayan boxes, then rebuilt them after getting past the BOC. – Rappler.com