24 August 2015:
President Benigno Aquino III met with the Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of Customs this afternoon to immediately stop the random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. He emphasized that OFW families view the balikbayan box as an integral part of the family relationship to nurture loved ones at home and as a tangible sign of their love and concern for their family members.He also emphasized the reality that more often than not, the only people who know what are in the boxes are the people who send them and the family members who receive them. But there have been instances when unscrupulous individuals have used balikbayan boxes to break the law, and placed the greater community at risk. For example, gun parts, ammunition and gun accessories were found in 7 balikbayan boxes, 81,529 tablets of anti-anxiety drugs were misdeclared as food supplements in November 2014, 413 Casio G-Shock watches, and even a custom Harley Davidson Chopper motorcycle of a Hollywood scriptwriter in 2011, among other high end car parts, were also delivered through balikbayan boxes.
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Therefore it is incumbent on the State to uphold its duty to protect our people. But in doing so there should be no contradiction between the need to ensure the implementation of the law, the promotion of the security of the country, and the rights and privileges of our people.
At present there are an estimated 1,500 containers of Balikbayan Boxes a month, translating to around 18,000 containers a year, or around 7.2 million boxes. Inspections are made on the basis of actual intelligence of a potential violation or threat. To ensure that this is done in a manner that maximized public safety while assuring the broader public that their boxes are not subject to unauthorized tampering, the President has instructed the Bureau of Customs to immediately do the following:
First, there will be no random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. Moving forward, all containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory x-ray and K-9 examination–at no cost to the sender or the OFW. Only in cases where there are derogatory findings from the x-ray or K-9 examination will there be a physical inspection of goods.
Second, in the event of a physical inspection, the Bureau will request that an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative or a designated officer of an OFW Association be present, with provisions for CCTV monitoring of the inspection areas.
Employees who violate these protocols and engage in pilferage will be prosecuted and punished. We encourage the public to submit videos and photographic evidence of illegal acts to the Commissioner of Customs.
In this manner we are confident that public concerns will be addressed while enhancing the State’s capacity to fulfill its obligation to our people. In the coming days, the Bureau of Customs will be holding a demonstration or walkthrough of this system for the media so that the public can see how it works.