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OFW groups favor Congress probes over BOC dialogue

A coalition of OFW groups and advocates that have raised vigorous objections against the Bureau of Customs’ imposition of tighter controls over balikbayan boxes today welcomed the Senate and House hearings as a more appropriate platform for OFW concerns to be heard.

John Bertiz, a former OFW and coalition spokesman, said leaders of the coalition forged a consensus that the congressional hearings scheduled this coming week would be a matter of public record rather than a dialogue that may be more nebulous in character.

“While we welcome every opportunity to hold a dialogue with the BOC, we decided to consolidate our concerns and include all these in our presentation before members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the presence of BoC and other stakeholders,” Bertiz explained.

The OFW coalition is composed of the OFW Family Partylist, the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards, Inc., Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, Patnubay Group, LBS Recruitment Solutions, Inc., the Global Asia Alliance Consultants Inc., United Filipino Seafarers, Filipino Migrant Workers Group, Center for Migrants Advocacy, Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc., Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc. and Federation of Associations of Manpower Exporters.

Foremost among the concerns of OFWs are the safety and integrity of their balikbayan boxes, consistency and clarity in BoC rules and guidelines, and a more inclusive, transparent and pro-OFW process that would take into account the challenges and hardships encountered by OFWs and their families at home.

“We are preparing our proposals for our legislators and the BOC to note and consider. The legislative hearings offer a fair, transparent, open, and constructive platform for long-term solutions so that the balikbayan fiasco would never happen again.” Bertiz said.

On Wednesday (Sept. 2), the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs will also hear issues affecting the rights and welfare of OFWs, including the opening and inspection of OFW balikbayan boxes by the BOC, among others.

The Senate ways and committee chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara is likewise scheduled on Thursday (Sept. 3) to open public hearing on the BOC’s policies and processes concerning the inspection and clearance of balikbayan boxes send by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

At least six senators have filed separate resolutions calling for an immediate investigation into the controversy.  They are Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Nancy Binay, Bam Aquino, Alan Peter Cayetano, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito.

Angara’s committee will also hear Senate Bill 2931 filed by Sen. Ralph Recto which seeks to exempt from duties and taxes ‘balikbayan boxes’ containing personal and household effects of OFWs, other filipinos residing abroad and residents of the Philippines returning from abroad.  (30)