THE COLLECTIVE and swift vigilance and wrath of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), their families and the civil society have forced President Aquino to backtrack yesterday on his implicit support of his customs chief’s plan to arbitrarily check “balikbayan” boxes, which are considered as “integral part of the family relationship” among those working and living abroad and their loved ones left in the country.
“Thanks, but no thanks to P-Noy; his about-face was merely to save his face, to avoid further backlash against his government and his anointed ones in next year’s elections. Because before he yielded to public clamor versus the balikbayan box policy, he actually encouraged this idiotic plan,” Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, said.
Mata added that “the morons who thought of that plan have apparently ignored the huge sacrifices and contributions of the millions of OFWs, the multibillion-peso smuggling of illicit or highly taxable items as well as the dumping of hazardous wastes from other countries that thrive and persist under the very noses of corrupt customs personnel, and the availability of nonintrusive inspection methods that could detect contraband goods without the need to pry open the humble balikbayan boxes sent by the OFWs to their families here.”
After widespread protests, including in the social media and from lawmakers, Malacañang belatedly ordered Alberto Lina, Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner, to stop his much-maligned idea – that in fact harasses the OFWs, not the big-time smugglers, criminals and terrorists – and to instead conduct noninvasive large-sized X-ray and K-9 examinations of all containers of OFW boxes.
Physical scrutiny of a specific balikbayan box will be allowed only if the X-ray or K-9 inspection found “derogatory findings,” but strict protocols will be followed, including the presence of a representative from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) or an OFW association, and CCTV (closed circuit television) units will be placed to monitor the inspection areas to deter pilferage or theft, bribery and vandalism.
Earlier, Lina – the former BOC head during the Arroyo regime, and appointed by Aquino last April – announced that balikbayan boxes, which typically contain the usual household wares and gifts, would be subjected to random inspections to prevent the entry of illegal materials or to assess the contents for duties and value-added taxes.