The Philippine government is imposing new rules for Filipino expatriates sending balikbayan boxes, which will take effect on August 1.
The regulations are being criticized for being cumbersome, and unfair to Filipino overseas workers and those residing abroad.
Some senders may expect delays or incur additional duties and taxes.
Starting August 1, 2017, all senders of parcels containing personal effects and household items, commonly called “balikbayan boxes,” will be subjected to stricter requirements, as stipulated under Philippine Bureau of Customs memorandum order 04-2017.
The new rules seek to promote transparency and prevent smuggling on imported items, according to the Bureau of Customs in the Philippines.
With the new provisions, overseas Filipinos are mandated to declare absolutely everything they are shipping back to their home country, from used shirts, clothes, down to the last pair of socks – if they don’t want to pay taxes.
The sender is required to fill out a form with an itemized description of goods, including quantities and actual/ estimated prices.
Filipinos abroad sending brand-new goodies, such as shoes, bags or clothes, are required to also provide the necessary receipts as proof of purchase.
Shipments that fail to comply with the requirements might be subjected to physical examination and extra charges.
Particularly, the order requires the sender to submit three copies of information sheets indicating the sender and Philippines-based recipients as well as shipment details. They should also submit supporting documents such as the biographical page of their Philippine passport, a copy of the invoice, and receipts of payment for the goods contained in the balikbayan box if any.
Dual citizens sending balikbayan boxes to the Philippines must include proof of their dual citizenship.
Cargoes that don’t contain goods in commercial quantities are normally exempt from duties and taxes, and they don’t usually undergo such meticulous screening processes.
The new policy is the latest in a series of guidelines that Philippine authorities have been working on to tighten their watch on the importation of goods. Late last year, a set of guidelines was announced that effectively hiked the duty-and tax-free ceiling for balikbayan boxes to P150,000 (approximately Cdn$3,700).
According to an official of Door to Door Consolidators Association of the Philippines (DDCAP), the new rules could lead to delays in the delivery of OFWs’ packages.
“If the documents are incomplete, for example, there is no receipt, duties, and taxes might apply,” said lawyer James Ian de la Vega, legal counsel of DDCAP, in an interview with GMA News.
The Bureau of Customs order also stipulates that the package should be addressed to a family member or relative of the sender. “If the box is addressed to a girlfriend, friend or boyfriend, the balikbayan box tax-free privilege will not apply,” said de la Vega in Tagalog.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Migrant and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI) criticized the new Customs rules. Bishop Rupert Santos, chairman of the CBCP-ECMI, said requiring expatriate Filipinos to produce receipts for unused items would be cumbersome.
“The inclusion [of] receipts will be problematic and burdensome to our OFWs. Why? To fill up a balikbayan box usually takes up months as they wait for sales and they will ship them for Christmas or before graduations and so to keep up receipts is added difficulty,” said Bishop Rupert Santos, chairman of the CBCP-ECMI.
A migrant workers’ rights group has condemned the Bureau of Customs’ new guidelines on balikbayan boxes, calling the memorandum a “money-making” requirement.
The Bureau of Customs said there is no limit to the number of balikbayan boxes that OFWs can send per shipment provided that its total value should not be more than P150,000 in a calendar year.
The 22-page Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017 was signed by BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon on January 20, 2017.
In 2015, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) also opposed a BOC directive on their balikbayan boxes. The agency ordered random inspection of balikbayan boxes to check for smuggled goods which were identified as “undervalued items” and “undeclared contents.”