At last, PERA is here! After half a decade of waiting and being a #Paasa to many Filipinos, especially OFWs, the government has finally launched it to help promote long-term investments.
But what is PERA?
PERA is the acronym for PERSONAL EQUITY and RETIREMENT ACCOUNT. This is a voluntary retirement account, which an individual can set up for his/her exclusive use and benefit. It is similar to the 401(K) of the United States of America that serves as a financial instrument for retirement. Continue reading Why OFWs Need To Invest in P.E.R.A. While Abroad
Per Chapter VII. Balikbayan Boxes- Bureau of Customs
Balikbayan Boxes are packages of personal effects and/or “pasalubongs” sent by Filipinos residing or working abroad to their families or relatives in the Philippines to enhance Philippine tradition and culture for the promotion and preservation of strong family ties through love and caring expressed in gift-giving.
This definition came from the Bureau of Custom’s (BOC) web page. But, this same agency seems to fail to comprehend the very meaning of this definition. A balikbayan box, specially those that are sent during the holidays, mean countless hours of hard work and sacrifice from our OFW’s (Overseas Filipino Workers) just to be able to fill these boxes. They are estranged from their loved ones and their homeland just so they can continue to provide and uplift them.
According to Rappler on BOC revised rules and regulation on balikbayan boxes, dated August 27, the customs memorandum order (COM) applies to all non-commercial inbound consolidated shipment of overseas Filipino workers and for returning OFWs bringing in personal and household effects as provided under Section 105 (f) of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP), as amended.
Among the operational provisions is that the OFWs balikbayan boxes shall not be subjected to random or arbitrary physical inspection. “Instead they shall undergo mandatory X-ray scanning,” the CMO read.
Mandatory container X-ray scanning shall be conducted at the X-ray Inspection Project (XIP) Designated Examination Area (DEA) for preliminary examination of non-commercial inbound consolidated shipment. Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina is under fire from OFWs and their families for his “reminder” on balikbayan boxes. The outcry prompted President Benigno Aquino III to stop physical inspections of balikbayan boxes.
The COM takes effect immediately and repeals all existing orders, circulars, memoranda, and other issuances “inconsistent or in conflict with this order,” BOC said.
Sadly, I was personally a witness to the BOC’s and PHLPost’s (Philippine Postal Corporation) wanton disregard of this COM. We have a family friend who is an OFW in Israel. She has been there for a decade already and it was only last November that she very excitedly called my aunts about her plan of sending a balikbayan box for the family.
Unfortunately, her mother passed away a week before Christmas. We weren’t able to meet with her already as she only spent 2 days in Manila because she had to go back to work. But, she reminded my aunt that she sent a Balikbayan box last November.
My aunts asked me to accompany them last January 4, 2016 to the CMEC (Central Mail Exchange Center) in Pasay to claim the Balikbayan Box. Apparently, PHLPost was claiming that they delivered the package twice to my aunt’s home but there was no one to receive it. My aunt claims that there is never a time that their home is left unattended. Be that as it may, I wasn’t prepared to see how corrupt and inefficient these agencies still are.
In the CMEC, there are 2 main rooms beside each other – one houses BOC and the other houses PHLPost. My aunt went to the Customer Service of PHLPost to show her claim receipt. We were just waiting and my aunt saw from afar another family friend, a former Secretary of Finance who went inside the BOC glass room, shook hands with the examiners and left with his package without being called to the dry walled BOC “inside” room. We were about 4 people ahead of the former secretary of Finance but we were still waiting for our turn long after he has left.
After that, my aunt was called to the glass BOC room and a man from PHLPost brought out 2 boxes to this room. I didn’t accompany my aunt inside. But, another aunt and I could see her from the glass window. She was taking a long time inside and we could see that the boxes sent to us were deformed and had Philpost tapes wrapped around the boxes (as compared to the other boxes). You will see some “good” boxes and some boxes that looked like they were ransacked already). At that point, my other aunt wanted to take pictures. The guard as pictured (2nd pic) approached my aunt and said that it is not allowed to take pictures. We found this weird. If they were not guilty of anything, why can’t we take pictures?
A man from PHLPost was the one opening the boxes and it was a lady examiner from BOC (barely looking at the items) who was supposedly “checking” the items. After this harassing treatment, my aunt was told to wait outside the glass BOC room for her name to be called. The balikbayan boxes were sealed again with the PHLPost tapes. After about 15 minutes, my aunt was called to the dry walled BOC room and was given a computation to pay for P32,000+ (1st pic). My other aunt then, blurted out that she’s also with the government and she is flabbergasted because there is no corruption in her department– in fact, she holds a high position with the DOH.
The people there thought that my aunt was from the DOF and ushered us to an inner room again to “negotiate” with their boss. My aunt was getting impatient so she told the “boss” that there will be no negotiation and she would just prefer that all the items in the boxes are destroyed in front of us and she will just document this so our OFW can see what happened to the Balikbayan Box she sent – my aunt will just take responsibility on the order to destroy the items instead of these items just going to the BOC or PHLPost.
Imagine the nerve of the “boss” saying that we can only destroy the items after we have “paid” for the P32,000?!? The BOC “boss” and “examiner” were saying that they just followed what our family friend wrote on the amount of the bag – they asked what country it came from and the examiner defended herself by saying that she even gave us a “discount” without us asking because she didn’t add to the conversion to PHP.
How can 1 Nine West bag be worth 4K Israeli Sheqel (meaning P47,880?- even if they look in all Nine West stores both online and in brick and mortar stores, they cannot find a Nine West bag worth that much! It’s not even leather!). Didn’t they think that what our OFW may have wrote is 4K pesos? If you look closer in Picture 1, the BOC was claiming that the boxes’ contents were more than USD$2,200 – how can 5 non leather Nine West bags, perfumes and used (2) sunglasses be worth Php113,000++?
When we demanded that the “boss” check again, we were ushered out to the glass BOC room and the man from PhlPost started opening the boxes. At that point, the guard of Customs went inside and told my aunt to stop taking a video – my aunt denied that she’s taking any video but the guard was insisting that she was and that she had to delete it.
I then, asked the guard to give us his name, he just pointed to his uniform (all the people in BOC didn’t have ID’s including the “boss” who was now “re-examining” the contents of the box). It was then that the man from PhilPost (at that time, I still didn’t know that he was not with the BOC technically. He was with Phlpost) angrily said, that they are not allowed to give out their names. If they weren’t guilty of anything – why can’t they give out their names? For a government agency, it is not allowed to take pictures, videos, and even get the names of the people you’re dealing with? What kind of crap is this?
There was a woman beside us who was complaining loudly that she came all the way from Pampanga to claim the Balikbayan Box she sent. Her box took such a long time that she was able to arrive earlier than her box to be delivered. She was being charged tax as well and she said she already paid for the taxes, insurance and shipment to the Philippines – so, why was she being charged again. We heard her examiner say, that it is the President’s mandate for the collection. She can just ask the President for the reason. At that point, she went out of the room and said she will not pay.
We then went inside again the BOC dry walled room and were told by their “boss” that the “computation” is correct and we were already given a “big discount”? Their “boss” and the lady “examiner” told us that this is the law that all Balikbayan boxes will be taxed for their collection mandate. My aunts were all aghast given that they were also from the government but have not witnessed any corruption of this sort. My aunts said that we will not get the package and we will not “negotiate”.
I then told them that the PhlPost man did not want to give his name and they just summarily dismissed me by saying that the man is not from BOC but from PhilPost and I should just talk to his boss. I went to the PhlPost room and asked for his name and again he said it’s not allowed to give out their names. I asked the reason why. He angrily shouted that he just did not want to.
Instead of being a source of joy and pride (as our OFW friend intended); that Balikbayan Box, became a source of anger and exasperation over the very agencies who were supposed to uphold the very meaning of these Balikbayan boxes.
These boxes are not just boxes. These are the blood, sweat and tears of our OFW’s who scrimp on their daily food, who lack sleep, who forego their “pamasahe” going home just for their “padala” several months before the Holidays . These boxes are the pride of our OFW’s of being able to provide and uplift their loved ones’ lives back home. These boxes are the love and hope of better lives of our OFW’s.