Because of its recent attempt to make OFW (overseas Filipino workers) ‘balikbayan’ boxes a target for its corrupt agents, the Philippine Department of Finance’s Bureau of Customs has once again come into public focus. In a US State Department investment climate report, the bureau was ranked as the “Most Corrupt Philippine Government Office.”
The balikbayan (repatriate) box is a Filipino tradition that dates back to 1987. Overseas Filipino workers – especially those in the United States – would send boxes of goodies and other gifts items to relatives in their home country via freight forwarders who charged very minimal fees. The balikbayan shipments were “door-to-door” – the boxes were picked up from the sender’s home and delivered directly to the recipient’s Philippine address.
Filipinos took advantage of this method for sending gifts to relatives after then-President Corazon Aquino issued an executive order in 1987 allowing shipments by overseas Filipino workers to be tariff-free. Subsequently, the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines was amended to provide duty- and tax-free privileges for balikbayan boxes. The ruling was in recognition of OFW “sacrifices in foreign lands” and their remittances to the country “of considerable amounts of foreign exchange.” The typical balikbayan box measures 24”x18”x24”.
The Bureau of Customs’ recent directive that would have subjected the balikbayan boxes to “random inspections” became an immediate target of an outraged net community. Opposition to the bureau’s move went viral. The predominant claim is that customs inspectors and agents were going to be free to “pilfer” from the boxes. Fortunately, President Benigno Aquino III issued an order to the bureau to abandon its plan.
Philippine Bureau of Customs police personnel, revenue agents, examiners, evaluators, assessors, etc. – its employees in general – are known around the country as among people who enrich themselves in office.
In the US State Department report, the Bureau of Customs corruption status was ranked “very bad” and the bureau’s efforts to eliminate graft and corruption in the agency as “execrable.”