Tibaldo: Of balikbayan boxes & Filipino's culture of giving

THE month of December is usually the season when many OFWs and Filipino nationals living abroad send their Christmas presents and gifts to their loved ones. For this, a large parcel in a Balikbayan Box is the most anticipated item by family members who have relatives working abroad.

History has it that the balikbayan box came about around the 1980s in the United States as a result of the influx of overseas Filipino workers. Accordingly, the first freight forwarder to offer balikbayan box services was Rico Nunga who started REN International in Los Angeles, California in 1981.

On 30 June 1987, President Corazon Aquino enacted Executive Order No. 206 and added new subsection to the 1957 Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines which was signed into law by former president Carlos P. Garcia. The amendment provides duty- and tax-free privileges to balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines by overseas Filipino workers as recognition of the magnitude of their contribution and sacrifices in foreign lands as well as bringing of a considerable amount of foreign exchange annually that contributed to the national recovery effort at that time. This allowed tax-free entry of personal goods in the country from Filipinos overseas.

Returning Pinoys and exchange students also uses balikbayan boxes to load pasalubongs that are in excess of their allowed baggage weight and send it home via a parcel service which is usually a sea freight forwarder. Foreign consolidators collect door-to-door charges from senders and it include fees for a shipping line, terminal storage, duties and charges, and a local freight forwarder.

For this, the Department of Trade and Industry advises senders to have their balikbayan boxes delivered by accredited Philippine agents, local sea freight forwarders, consignees or recipients in the Philippines.
According to DTI, there were instances when foreign consolidators/principal sea freight forwarders do not remit a portion of their collected charged to their accredited Philippine agents/local sea freight forwarders to prompt the release and delivery of balikbayan boxes.

DTI warns that there are items not allowed to be sent through balikbayan boxes like currencies, checks, money orders, traveller’s checks, jewelries, firearms, ammunitions and explosives. Also banned are prohibited drugs and other substances, pornographic materials, gambling cards and toy guns, pirated products like DVD, CD, items of commercial quantity, plant seeds and plant materials and any food stuff that are not in cans, sealed packages, or in bottles.

A sender must declare all the contents of the balikbayan box in the packing list and its corresponding value as well as the shipping date. The sender must secure the shipping documents such as official receipt, cargo receipt, invoice, house Bill of Lading, shippers’ declaration or waybill. It is also important to get the name and contact details of the consolidator’s Philippine counterpart/agent and see to it that this information is indicated in the shipping documents that you have secured.

The rates differ depending on the size of the balikbayan box, the country of origin of the shipment and its destinations in the Philippines but beware of exceptionally very low rates.
When necessary funds are not remitted to accredited Philippine agent/local freight forwarders, the shipments or the balikbayan boxes with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will not be released and will not be delivered to consignee/recipients.

So what office or government agencies can a sender or receiver refer said problem? There is an attached office of DTI called the Business Licensing Accreditation Division (BLAD) under its Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB) which operates the accreditation scheme for sea freight forwarders. The FTEB-BLAD holds the foreign consolidator / principal and its Philippine agent / freight forwarder jointly and severally liable for the delivery of cargoes to the consignees. What can FTEB-BLAD do to help the consignee if the Philippine agent/freight forwarder holds delivery of balikbayan boxes because its foreign principal fails to remit the necessary funds therefore? According to the DTI website, FTEB-BLAD shall order the Philippine agent/freight forwarder to deliver the cargoes to their rightful owners (consignees) without any delay and failure to deliver the cargoes immediately shall constrain FTEB-BLAD to file a Formal Charge against the freight forwarder and possibly cause the revocation of its accreditation. Also, a Cease and Desist Order will be issued by DTI if the forwarder is not BLAD-accredited. DTI’s Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB) has a Business Licensing and Accreditation Division, Mediation Division and Adjudication Division that handle complaints on balikbayan boxes. In filing a complaint with DTI regarding balikbayan boxes, the complainant should file a written complaint together with supporting documents showing the name of the local delivery agent/forwarder such as official receipts, cargo receipts, packing list, shippers’ declaration, house bills of lading, or waybills, with DTI-FTEB. They can also send their complaints through email at fteb@dti.gov.ph and ftebmediation@dti.gov.ph or call DTI Direct at (02) 751-3330 / 0917-8343330.

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