CAGAYAN de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez has filed a bill that would exempt from all duties and taxes thousands of balikbayan boxes millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other Filipinos abroad are sending home to their families and loved ones.
The proposed tax exemption is contained in House Bill (HB) No. 6752, which would also require the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to use “non-intrusive” methods in inspecting arriving balikbayan boxes.
The bill provides that the packages could be opened only under certain circumstances.
Rodriguez said families and relatives of OFWs and other Filipinos abroad receive an average of 400,000 balikbayan boxes every month.
“These balikbayan boxes serve as the enduring testament of their sacrifice and hard work in order to secure a better future for their families back home. They represent their love and care for their families, who have to endure months or even years of separation from each other,” he said.
In proposing the tax exemption and no-opening-of-packages policy, the Mindanao lawmaker invoked the Constitution, which provides: “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.”
Rodriguez said his proposal is a way for the state and the government to give back to OFWs and other Filipinos living abroad, who send home billions of dollars and other foreign currencies a year.
“Their remittances contribute significantly to our nation’s economic growth. Some economists even say the funds our overseas workers sent home keep our economy afloat,” he said.
In 2022, OFWs alone sent an estimated $30 billion to their families and relatives, he said.
Bill 6752 is entitled, “An Act instituting the Expanded Balikbayan Program, amending for the purpose Republic Act No. 6768, as amended by Republic Act No. 9174, and for other purposes.”
It provides that balikbayans would be entitled to ship home one box a month, which would be exempt from taxes and duties imposed under the National Internal Revenue Code and the Customs and Tariff Code regardless of the value of its contents.
Present BOC rules set a value limit of P150,000.
The packages would be subjected to non-intrusive inspection technologies such as x-ray or through the use of sniffer dogs.
They could be opened only when the consignor’s export declaration and packing list are not attached to the boxes or when the BOC receives written information that the shipped items are banned, prohibited or regulated under existing laws.
The bill also expands the definition of a balikbayan’s family to include not only his spouse and children but also his parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters (whether full blood or half blood), and relatives within the fourth degree of relationship.
It defines a balikbayan box as a “receptacle of personal and/or household effects, including livelihood tools, in non-commercial quantity.”