Bishop to Customs: Run after big-time smugglers not OFWs

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MANILA, Aug. 21, 2015— A Catholic bishop described as “callous and cruel” the government’s plan to open “balikbayan” boxes in its fight against smuggling.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said the move make the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) more prone to abuse.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga (Photo: Balanga Diocese)

“Government fails to protect their rights and now even ‘balikbayan’ boxes are not spared. As they open those boxes, they are exposing those hard earned goods [to] abuses,” Santos said.

“We oppose this disheartening action and lacking concern to our OFWs who are mostly the senders,” he said. “Those things inside are for personal use and not for business so why tax them?”

Santos chairs the Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (ECMI).

If only to tighten its watch on balikbayan boxes, the prelate said they must use x-ray machines, rather than opening them.

“How we will know that not a single [item] will be taken away? How about of planting of something that could be used against the sender?” Santos said.

“This would lead to suspicions. The sender and forwarders have listings of what is inside the boxes. Check those lists,” he added.

The Bureau of Customs said it will randomly open balikbayan boxes for inspection based on suspicion that such are being used to smuggle in taxable goods.

The bureau said it is losing about Php 50 million a month, or Php 600 million in revenue each year due to “technical smuggling” involving balikbayan boxes.

Instead of imposing tighter rules for balikbayan boxes which OFWs sent to their families in the country, the bishop called on the government to run after big-time smugglers.

“Go focus on those free ports. Open those warehouses and sealed container vans and those things inside that are taxable. There are no Ferraris or Porsches in balikbayan boxes,” Santos said. (R. Lagarde / CBCPNews)

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