Press Release
August 24, 2015


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Monday filed a resolution urging the Senate to investigate the Bureau of Customs (BOC) plan to intrusively inspect and further tax balikbayan boxes sent by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Santiago, a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, filed proposed Senate Resolution No. 1534, in response to some 78,000 Filipinos who asked her via online petition platform to stop the BOC plan. (

"Balikbayan boxes are often channels of private and personal communication between migrant workers and their families in the Philippines. Is nothing sacred anymore for the Bureau of Customs?" the senator said.

The BOC drew flak on social media over the weekend, after Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina announced that the agency may soon open up balikbayan boxes, which he claimed are being used to smuggling goods into the country.

Lina alleged that the duty- and tax-free shipments often contain items valued above the $500 limit, that OFWs exceed the maximum of one consignment per sender per month, and that some items in balikbayan boxes are for commercial use.

While acknowledging the Bureau of Customs' mandate to scrutinize all shipments arriving in the country, Santiago in her resolution claimed that the agency must continue to improve its facilities, which should include equipment for non-intrusive scans.

The senator urged the BOC to use X-ray machines and other technologies. The agency reportedly acquired some 30 X-ray machines to be used in seaports in 2006, and in 2013 sought contractors that will provide 20 X-ray machines for airports.

"It is one thing to inspect balikbayan boxes, another to desecrate them. The Bureau of Customs seems aware that balikbayan boxes, when opened by their personnel, are sometimes pillaged. What have officials done to rid their ranks of thieves?" she said.

The BOC is one of the most corrupt and worst-performing government agencies, according to opinion polls. It got the worst rating (-63 or "very bad") in the 2013 SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption.

Businessmen surveyed by the Makati Business Club also considered the BOC the third worst-performing agency from July 2014 to July 2014, topped only by the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Transportation and Communications.

In her resolution, Santiago urged her colleagues to demand from the BOC accomplishment reports for the anti-graft and corruption programs the agency implemented, especially as the Senate reviews the proposed BOC budget for 2016.

"Whether they accept it or not, the sad reality is that Customs personnel don't particularly enjoy the public's trust. You cannot blame OFWs for doubting the renewed vigor of Customs inspectors when it comes to balikbayan boxes." she said.

Santiago is on medical leave in the Senate due to lung cancer, stage four, but she remains the senator with most number of bills and resolutions filed. She announced in July that she plans to run for president in 2016 with her cancer in check.

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