THE Bureau of Customs (BoC) has tightened its watch on arriving balikbayan (returnees) boxes after discovering that such cargos are being used as conduits for smuggling.
“The items [inside the boxes]may as well be considered as smuggled goods for non-compliance with the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code,” Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina said on Monday.
A spot check that he had conducted confirmed reports that unscrupulous traders were importing high-value goods in commercial quantities through the balikbayan boxes.
“The existing rules [covering such boxes]are obsolete and we may have to reassess our coordination and processes with consolidators for stricter and improved compliance,” Lina said, referring to a Customs memorandum order for consolidated shipments from Filipinos abroad.
Balikbayan boxes, which first appeared in the 1980s, are duty- and tax-free packages of personal effects sent by Filipinos residing or working abroad to families in the Philippines.
Though often shipped by freight forwarders specializing in balikbayan boxes by sea, such boxes can also be brought by Filipinos returning to the Philippines by air.
“Our spot checks in several warehouses show how misconstrued the rules may have become. People are sending in used clothing, home appliances, and items of the same kind that well may be used for commercial purposes. Nagkamali ba ang sender o nagkulang ang freight forwarder [Did the sender make a mistake or did the freight forwarder miss something]? Is there misinformation to drive their businesses?” Lina asked.
The balikbayan-box concept was approved by then-President Ferdinand Marcos, who had noted a surge in the number of Filipinos working overseas.
The privilege though carried restrictions.
“The contents of a balikbayan box must not exceed $500 in value. Canned goods, grocery items and other household effects must not exceed a dozen a kind, while apparels whether used or new must not exceed 3 yards per cut. Only one  consignment per sender during a one-month period is allowed,” Lina explained.
Banned and/or regulated are firearms and ammunition, prohibited drugs, pornographic materials and gambling materials/ apparatus.
“Home appliances are not allowed unless these are consigned to returning Filipino residents and overseas contract workers. Don’t let any forwarder tell you otherwise. We will seize these prohibited shipments and revoke registrations of forwarders or consolidators if we find any violations,” Lina said.
To protect legitimate interests of the public, the commissioner said the examination of these consolidated shipments is mandatory.
“Some people are alarmed why their boxes are delivered ‘already tampered with.’ The Customs bureau is allowed by law to do a 100-percent check of your boxes but if you think that there are items missing, you can report these to the proper authorities,” he added.