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Customs chief Lina apologizes to OFWs over balikbayan box issue

(Updated 3: 27 p.m.) Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina on Thursday apologized to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in connection with the bureau's earlier plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes — a policy vehemently opposed by migrant workers.

"Ako ay nagso-sorry kung may natapakan. I give my 200 percent support to them," Lina said during the hearing of the Senate committee on ways and means on balikbayan boxes.

Lina, who noted that his sister is an OFW in Oman, said they are now drafting a new policy to make it easier for OFWs to get their balikbayan boxes while the Bureau of Customs (BoC) is addressing the issue on smuggling.

He said he is asking for a list of OFWs so that the BoC can "pre-clear" the balikbayan boxes.

"Pag may listahan kami, ipapre-clear ko na para mabilis ang pagde-deliver sa kanilang bahay," he said.

Lina reiterated that the BoC did not intend to target OFWs in its plan to inspect balikbayan boxes, supposedly to address technical smuggling, as they only wanted to check the containers for illegal items.

"Hindi naman sila ang aming puntirya," he said. "Ang tinutukoy ko ay yung mga gumagamit ng balikbayan boxes sa kanilang iligal na gawain."

The controversial BoC policy has been shelved upon orders from President Benigno Aquino III, after it drew flak from OFWs.

No proof

Also during the hearing, Customs deputy commissioner Jessie Dellosa admitted that they have no proof yet that balikbayan boxes are being used by unscrupulous individuals to smuggle illegal drugs and firearms into the country.

“So far negative sa balikbayan box,” Dellosa said when asked by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. if they have apprehended any balikbayan box containing illegal items.

Dellosa's response prompted Marcos to ask for the BoC's basis for proposing the opening of the balikbayan boxes to check the contents.

"Where did the information that balikbayan boxes contain illegal drugs or armaments come from?" Marcos asked. "What was the basis of your statement if there was no incident reported by your office? There is no record  na nahuli na may laman na armas o droga, where did this information spring from?"

Lina said he received reports that balikbayan boxes will be used for smuggling. “There are some reports that I received that it will gonna be used for smuggling. Those reports are coming in,” he told the committee.

P3B to P6B every year

Lina said the government losing P3 billion to P6 billion every year due to smuggling through balikbayan boxes.

"Humigit-kumulang sa pag aaral namin ilang bilyong piso ang nawawala sa atin, estimated lang po 'yan, nasa P3 billion to P6 billion,” he told members of the committee.

Lina said now that they will no longer manually inspect balikbayan boxes, they will have to use X-ray  machines to check the balikbayan boxes for any illegal item.

“Ang panuntunan namin ay X-ray na lang 'yun at bago dumating dito para ma-clear na at para huwag gumastos ang freight forwarders, maaga silang magsa-submit ng invoice at packing list para mabilis ang pagi-inspect,” he said when asked by Senator Grace Poe on their plan.

He said based on their dry run, it would only take 15 to 20 minutes to put a container containing balikbayan boxes under X-ray.

“Kaya pong mag-X-ray ng 40 containers kada isang araw,” he said, adding that they receive an average of 1,200 containers a month. —KBK, GMA News