It seems the number one topic on everyone’s lips and minds for the last few days has just been settled, and by no other than the President himself.
A message posted on the official Gov.ph website earlier tonight brought the good news: There will be no random searches of balikbayan boxes as intended by much criticized Bureau of Customs chief Bert Lina. The most important bits of the press release are copied below and you can read the whole message here:
“The President met with the Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of Customs this afternoon. He emphasized that OFW families view the balikbayan box as an integral part of the family relationship to nurture loved ones at home and as a tangible sign of their love and concern for their family members…..
…….At present there are an estimated 1,500 containers of Balikbayan Boxes a month, translating to around 18,000 containers a year, or around 7.2 million boxes. Inspections are made on the basis of actual intelligence of a potential violation or threat. To ensure that this is done in a manner that maximized public safety while assuring the broader public that their boxes are not subject to unauthorized tampering, the President has instructed the Bureau of Customs to immediately do the following.
First, there will be no random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. Moving forward, all containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory x-ray and K-9 examination—at no cost to the sender or the OFW. Only in cases where there are derogatory findings from the x-ray or K-9 examination will there be a physical inspection of goods.
Second, in the event of a physical inspection, the Bureau will request that an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative or a designated officer of an OFW Association be present, with provisions for CCTV monitoring of the inspection areas.
Employees who violate these protocols and engage in pilferage will be prosecuted and punished. We encourage the public to submit videos and photographic evidence of illegal acts to the Commissioner of Customs…..”
So there you have it: the public outcry was effective and assuming that things are done as instructed, the issue should be resolved, at least for now. Just like the message says, though: the public should be vigilant and if you do spot anything untoward, or any questionable conduct by BoC employees, or anyone else involved in the handling of the boxes, then keep your smartphone cameras at the ready and contact us with any pictures or video you have.