(The print edition of our editorial yesterday begins with a sentence containing the grave error of mistaking Customs Chief Bert Lina for his brother former senator Joey Lina. We deeply apologize for that error which we corrected in the online edition.)
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THAT explosion you may have heard over the weekend was not a tragic industrial accident or a fireworks display gone horribly wrong, but the near-instant venting of pure rage on the part of millions of Filipinos, all of it directed – and absolutely deservedly so – at one agency, the Bureau of Customs, and its chief Alberto Lina.
Last Friday, the BOC announced that it would begin in October “random inspections” of “balikbayan boxes” – boxes containing gifts and personal effects, sent home by OFWs to their families – in an effort to eliminate technical smuggling. The notification, as reported by several news outlets, also implied that additional fees would be levied on balikbayan boxes to cover the costs of the additional inspections.
Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, who was trotted out by the Palace on Saturday in a futile attempt at damage control, said in an interview on state-run Radio ng Bayan that the new program would not result in delays in packages being delivered to eager families and “that the property inside should be respected as well.”
Valte’s reassurances failed, as they usually do, to assuage an aggrieved public, and in the past couple of days OFWs and their families, through a number of advocacy groups, have called for boycotts against the government through withholding remittances and balikbayan boxes. That would hit the government where it hurts the most by taking a bite out of its revenues, but unfortunately, such protests never amount to anything – the harm done to the government is minor compared to the hardship placed on families who need their monthly remittances and small pleasures of foreign-bought chocolates and canned meat products, and most OFWs understandably will not allow their families to suffer to make a political point.
Bad news for Mar
It is entirely appropriate that the Aquino Administration be punished for its naked greed and general stupidity. Quite apart from being simply the latest act in a pattern of callous disregard for OFW welfare and concerns under President BS Aquino 3rd, the BOC decision regarding balikbayan boxes is grossly incompetent management. Any technical smuggling that is carried out using balikbayan boxes is utterly dwarfed by large-scale smuggling that continues, seemingly unabated; yet to Alberto Lina, tripping over a peso to try to pick up a centavo apparently sounds like a good idea.
The good news is that OFWs and their families will not have to consider bearing additional hardships in order to make the regime suffer the consequences it deserves for its gross insensitivity and lack of critical thinking. In allowing the BOC to issue the spiteful ruling on balikbayan box inspections, the administration may have just cut the legs from under Liberal Party standard-bearer and erstwhile “Aquino 2.0” Mar Roxas. As the administration puppet candidate, Roxas owns every bad decision his backers make, and this latest one puts him in an extremely uncomfortable position. If he supports it – which he should, as a Loyal Party Man – he risks the ire of millions of OFWs and millions more of their families and friends, ire that will be expressed in the form of votes for somebody else. If he repudiates the BOC’s move – which he should, if he has any wish to convince others that he is a normal human with a basic sense of decency and passing familiarity with rational policy management – then he instantly turns the LP and its electoral machine against him; after all, customs collections are (allegedly) a key source of campaign financing.
So what’s it going to be, Mar? Which do you choose, the hard or soft option? Stick with your party, and you’ll lose. Stick with the people and your party will see to it that you lose, but at least you’ll go down with a modicum of self-respect and compassion.