OVERSEAS Filipino workers (OFWs) and Filipinos residing abroad may soon be allowed to bring or send more goods to their loved ones in the Philippines tax-free following the Senate’s passage of a bill raising to P150,000 the tax-exempt value of balikbayan (returnee) boxes.
The present tax-exempt ceiling is P10,000.
The bill was approved by 19 senators who voted for the passage of the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) on third and final reading on Monday.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, sponsor of Senate Bill 2968, said the measure will also increase transparency and simplify procedures in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), increase the de minimis value and provide harsher penalties for smuggling.
De minimis are small items that are usually minor or lacking importance.
The move to raise balikbayan box tax-exemption limit was introduced last year after the BOC came up with a new policy that allows Customs personnel to physically check balikbayan boxes.
The new policy, according to the BOC, aims to catch “erring freight forwarding companies” that have allowed or are complicit in inserting illegal contraband like drugs and firearms into consolidated shipments.
The BOC’s policy, however, triggered public outrage, forcing President Benigno Aquino 3rd to stop random inspection of balikbayan boxes.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., one of those who opposed the opening of balikbayan boxes, filed Senate Bill 3033, or the “Duty Free/Pasalubong Act of 2015,” which aims to allow OFWs to send pasalubong (homecoming presents) or padala (money or goods sent home) to their families tax free.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto Recto also filed Senate Bill 2913 that seeks to raise tax-exempt value of contents of a balikbayan box to $2,000 or more than P90,000.
Marcos said while the proposed CMTA did not incorporate his proposed measure, it gave benefits to OFWs similar to what his bill sought to grant.
“Finally, we have given back our OFWs a concrete manifestation that we recognize them as modern-day heroes for their sacrifices and significant contributions to our economy, instead of merely paying them lip service,” the senator noted.
Section 800 of the proposed CMTA states, “Residents of the Philippines, overseas Filipino workers, other Filipinos while residing abroad or in their return to the Philippines shall be allowed to bring in or send to their families or relatives in the Philippines balikbayan boxes, which shall be exempt from duties and taxes.”
The privilege, however, can only be enjoyed up to three times in a calendar year.
“This means that an OFW can send two boxes at the same time provided that their total worth is not more than P150,000. That will be counted as one shipment,” Recto explained.
The boxes, however, must contain “personal and household effects only and shall neither be in commercial quantities, nor intended for barter, sale or for hire.”
With the counterpart measure approved by the House of Representatives earlier, Marcos said, he finds no reason that will hamper the bill’s enactment into law.
“If the bicameral conference committee can work fast to harmonize the House and the Senate versions, our OFWs will enjoy the benefits of this law very soon. I just hope the President won’t veto the tax exemption for balikbayan boxes as he did with the increase in SSS [Social Security System] pension,” the senator added.