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New balikbayan box rules take effect Aug 1 amid concerns

31 July 2017

Bayan HK protests new balikbayan box rules
By Daisy CL Mandap

The new rules for sending tax-free goods in balikbayan boxes to the Philippines will finally take effect tomorrow, Aug 1, amid persistent worries among stakeholders about the additional requirements they must comply with.
The biggest concern relates to filling out a detailed information sheet which requires the sender to list down each item in the box, and give a corresponding value. If an item costs more than Php10,000 a receipt must be attached. Only personal and  household items in non-commercial quantity could be sent.
There is also a section where the recipient’s details must be supplied, to show that he/she is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity (immediate family members up to great grandparents and corresponding in-laws, if any) to the sender.
Senders must also attach a copy of the page in their Philippine passports with personal information, picture and signature. Dual citizens must also send proof of their dual citizenship.
The new law allows “qualified Filipinos while abroad” (QFWA) to send a total of three boxes in a year to designated relatives in the Philippines, with the total value of the goods not to exceed Php150,000, to avail of the tax-free privilege.
The rules were supposed to have taken effect on Christmas day last year, following the signing of the implementing rules and regulations, but were put on hold in the wake of an outcry from overseas Filipinos and forwarders.
Subsequently, BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon signed Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017 on Jan. 24, further streamlining the requirements.
Info sheet p 1
Info sheet p2
As a result, some rules were relaxed, including one that required all new items to come with a receipt. 
But questions persist.
For Hong Kong’s leading forwarder AFreight, these include how the additional documents should be sent to the Bureau of Customs in Manila.
AFreight's Rosabelle Woolf
Initially, under the IRR, international forwarders must submit the information sheets and supporting documents “in secured electronic format” to their Philippine counterparts, which in turn, must forward the documents in like manner to the BOC within a specified period.
For goods that take three days to ship, as those coming from Hong Kong, the documents must be submitted 24 hours before their arrival. Those for goods that ship within seven days must be submitted 48 hours before arrival.
But according to AFreight’s country manager Rosabelle Woolf, they are still awaiting word on how the secure electronic transmission of the documents to the BOC could be effected.
“Medyo magulo pa sila sa Manila ngayon, but we will comply,” Woolf said. “We have already printed the new information sheets and we will be telling shippers to be ready with copies of their passports”.
This early, she said she gets asked questions by customers on how they could comply with some of the rules.
“Yung isa, ang tanong, paano kung hindi sila kasal nung pinapadalhan niyang asawa sa Pilipinas? Yung isa naman, ang pinapadalhan ay yung nag-aalaga sa anak niya pero hindi naman niya kamag-anak,” said Woolf.
In the Middle East, she said there were also questions from overseas Filipino workers who don’t have their passports in their possession because employers there routinely confiscate their documents to ensure they don’t run away.
In the BOC’s Facebook page itself, some OFWs in Japan expressed concern about the security of their personal information, and said they would rather pay customs duties than submit a copy of their passports.
Forwarders are also still in the dark on how the BOC could enforce compliance with the additional requirements, given that one 40-foot container alone holds 330 boxes, and around 25 containers arrive each day from overseas.
“If they do not open boxes and use only x-rays to check them, how could they possibly screen the contents of all those boxes to ensure that the rules are fully complied with?”, asked Woolf.
Further, they’re worried that partial compliance with the expanded requirements could hold up their entire shipment.
For militant migrant workers’ group Bayan Hong Kong and Macau, the new rules spell out more hardship for OFWs and their families.
The group and its allied organizations staged a rally in Central yesterday, July 30, and held aloft posters saying “hands off our boxes” or “Dagdag na tax, resibo at perwisyo sa balikbayan box”.
Bayan HK chair Eman Villanueva said they were against “the added inconvenience, the delays in the delivery of the balikbayan box and the possibility of added taxation to our OFWs.”
But according to Woolf, it is still too early to say how the new balikbayan box rules would impact OFWs and their business.
“Hindi ko pa nakikita ngayon,” she said. “Let’s see what happens in the next few weeks”.
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