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Why use X-ray, K9 on ‘balikbayan’ boxes only now?

02:43 AM August 29, 2015

This is a reaction to the article “Local cargo forwarders told to install X-ray machines” (News, 8/26/15). It’s about time that Customs Commissioner Bert Lina directed X-ray checks on balikbayan boxes at “no cost to the overseas Filipinos” who send them. This should have long been the practice. As technology advances, we also need to keep ourselves up to date with the latest scanning machines in order to protect our borders from contrabands.

“We are already looking into ways of acquiring K9 (dog) units and additional CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras for our ports through emergency procurement,” Lina also said. About time! It is appalling to hear that this measure is only being considered when this has been the practice of other countries for some time.

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Indeed, it is disheartening to know that in this day and age the Bureau of Customs still thinks of using the most primitive means of checking balikbayan boxes, which is to open them and have someone go through every single item therein and identify what needs to be taxed, and find out if the box sender is a smuggler or not.

Invest in technology and a good process, to boot. Being a migrant myself, I empathize with the overseas Filipino workers. And I say, considering the stigma of corruption that has soiled the bureau’s image, it will be hard to get the public to accept this.

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The balikbayan boxes should be the least of the agency’s worries. I dare Customs officials to go after the big fish—the illegal importers of rice, sugar, luxury cars, etc., not the balikbayan boxes sent by legitimate OFWs and migrants. If a sender has been flagged previously for smuggling illegal goods then obviously the bureau has all the right to investigate. Shipping companies can also be made liable for shipping goods worth more than $10,000 without the proper fees and taxes. And this calls for a continuing, overall vigilance from the point of exit to the point of entry.

President Aquino was spot on when he described balikbayan boxes as “tangible signs of (the OFWs’) love and concern for their family members.” The balikbayan box is an iconic gesture of the love of OFWs and migrants for their families, and since time immemorial anything good is worth preserving.

The bureau just needs to think of measures to enable them to do their duties of protecting our borders and ensuring public safety while keeping this family tradition. To be sure, opening all balikbayan boxes is not one of them.

—KATRINA ISABEL SUZARA, [email protected]

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