A coalition of OFW groups and advocates urged the Bureau of Customs to hold a dialogue with the OFW sector prior to executing any moves in relation to the entry and delivery of balikbayan boxes to prevent its use by unscrupulous individuals.
“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?”
The coalition is composed of various civil society organizations and OFW leaders who also railed against the integration of the terminal fee in air tickets bought online or overseas by overseas contract workers. Under the Migrant Workers’ Act, an OFW is deemed exempted from paying the PHP550 terminal fee. The coalition filed a case against the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) for carrying out its memorandum on the terminal fee integration without any mechanism to uphold the lawful exemption for OFWs.
This time around, the OFW coalition composed of: Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), 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 is calling on the BoC to appreciate the importance of every single balikbayan box to an overseas worker and his or her family.
Lito Soriano, a former OFW-turned-businessman, noted that every OFW puts together the contents of his or her balikbayan box with the best interests of his or her family at heart. “I remember when I was still an OFW in Saudi Arabia, it took me around 5 to 7 months to send a balikbayan box 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.”
Reynaldo Santiago Alimorong, Jr, an OFW based in Dubai, offered his opinion via Facebook: “Ano po ba ang assurance ng bawat OFW na mabubuksan ang mga cargo boxes na walang mawawala sa kanilang mga padala? Sana po bago sila gumawa ng bagong batas sa Customs ay linisin muna nila ang kanilang bakuran.”
Bhing Comiso of the Pinoy Expat/OFW Bloggers Awards (PEBA), a former caregiver in Taiwan whose sister continues to work there, 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. Pinapangalanan kung para kanino ang bawat item tapos bubuksan lang nila ng walang pakundgangan. Simpleng bagay sa iba pero para sa amin, meaningful pati ang ayos at bawat nilalaman ng isang balikbayan box.” (See more OFW comments addressed to the BoC via www.facebook.com/pebawards)
Among the issues to be raised by the OFW coalition before the Bureau of Customs is the dictatorial and arbitrary manner by which the BoC has chosen to approach the balikbayan box issue.
“Walang consultations, nagpa-media na kaagad na kung iisipin mo, parang napakasama naman ng tingin nila sa aming mga OFWs. Kung may mga nag-aabuso sa balikbayan boxes, ‘yon ang habulin nila. Huwag naman na parang ang dating ay mismong mga OFWs ang smugglers dahil hindi ‘yan totoo.” Coalition leaders Jun Aguilar and John Bertiz, both of who previously worked in Saudi Arabia, said the government’s lack of respect and compassion for OFWs is evident given the terminal fee integration and balikbayan box issues, both done without prior consultations with OFWs.
Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said that the OFW Coalition intends to formally write to BoC Commissioner Albert Lina to seek a dialogue in order to clarify the BoC’s new policy on balikbayan boxes.
“This has become 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.”