Migrant group holds 'no remittance day' protest over balikbayan box issue

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — After the controversy over the random inspection of balikbayan boxes, a migrant group declared Friday (August 28) as zero remittance day.

Migrante International lauded the directive of President Benigno Aquino III to stop the random inspection of balikbayan boxes. It said the move was an initial victory for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.

However, it questioned the Bureau of Customs’ (BoC) P600 million target revenue from the balikbayan boxes.

The BoC cited an average revenue loss of P50 million monthly or P600 million a year from unscrupulous traders, which was its revenue target from the balikbayan boxes, according to Migrante.

Related: Bureau of Customs: We are not after 'pasalubongs' from OFWs

The group demanded that the government retract the P600 million revenue target, and asked the BoC to “make public a complete report on the cited cases of illegal contraband and what steps were taken to apprehend and prosecute big-time smugglers, including those within the BoC.”

Palace welcomes protest

Malacañan on Wednesday (August 26) said it respects the decision of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to hold a “no remittance day” hours after Migrante made the announcement.

Patuloy naming kinikilala ang mahalagang ambag ng mga OFWs sa ating ekonomiya,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Bagaman kailangan ding isaalang-alang ang pangangailangang sawatain ang mga smugglers na nananamantala sa bayan sa paggamit ng mga balikbayan boxes, at sirain ang simbolo nito bilang bunga ng pagpupunyagi ng mga OFWs na nagsasakripisyong magtrabaho sa ibang bansa para sa kapakanan ng kanilang pamilya.”

[Translation: We continue to recognize the important contributions of OFWs in the Philippine economy. But we should also consider the need to stop smugglers who abuse the system by using balikbayan boxes, and destroying its symbolism as the fruit of the determination and sacrifice of OFWs to work abroad for their families.]

Coloma also said that the government does not see the “no remittance day” to have any significant effect on the country’s economy.

No more inspection?

Although random inspections would no longer be done, it doesn't mean balikbayan boxes would not undergo checking.

Following the president’s order, balikbayan boxes would still undergo mandatory X-ray and K-9 examination. But only when there are derogatory findings will a physical inspection be conducted.

“Existing rules on the balikbayan boxes still apply, including inspection as stipulated in the law,” the BoC said in a news release last Sunday (August 23).

“However, as mentioned before, the bureau is not technologically equipped to inspect all incoming boxes as efficiently as we want.”

Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina said the agency plans to hold an emergency procurement to acquire more K-9 units and additional CCTV cameras to be installed in the country’s ports.

Related: BOC under fire for policy on balikbayan boxes

Items prohibited in a balikbayan box are banned or regulated firearms and ammunitions, prohibited drugs, pornographic materials, and gambling materials, among others.

Contents of a balikbayan box must also not exceed $500 in value, according to the BoC.