‘Bantay salakay’

Malacañang is now doing double time on damage control due to the public outrage over the Bureau of Customs’ proposed random inspections of balikbayan boxes. Although President Aquino has already ordered the bureau to stop the random inspections, the public relations damage cannot be undone. It just underscored this administration’s quality of leadership and its blatant insensitivity and callousness towards the people.

Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina has been pushing to enforce more regular physical inspections of balikbayan boxes (which was said to be part of the agency’s anti-smuggling campaign) and enforcing the $500 value limit on the content of these tax-free privileges. He has cited the P600 million annual losses from high-end goods smuggled through balikbayan boxes as their rationale for the physical inspections. But truth be told, balikbayan boxes are already being screened through X-ray machines so there’s no need to open them up. Moreover, when Lina was interviewed live in a morning talk show, he could not even state where he got his figures and could not even give a sure answer of how many balikbayan boxes actually pass through Customs. Before this, Malacañang mouthpiece Edwin Lacierda has been quoted as belittling the scheduled OFW remittances by saying that it doesn’t really matter much as the funds don’t go to the government anyway. Where the hell did this guy come from? Lest it be forgotten by the President’s men, it has been the OFW remittances which have been keeping this country afloat for the past five years. Likewise, for the information of Commissioner Lina, the actual figures based on 2014 data from the International Monetary Fund shows that the country’s annual smuggling average has actually reached $19.6 billion since 2010, a staggering amount which is more than five times compared to the annual smuggling average under the allegedly corrupt previous administration. This obviously reflects a leadership which has cultivated a fertile field for smugglers to thrive on. Bear in mind that we have an existing law which states that non-performing officers and employees of the BOC and the BIR shall be subject to attrition. The problem with tuwid na daan is that the law is not implemented when it comes to allies.

Instead of targeting balik-bayan boxes, Customs chief Alberto Lina is better advised to start seriously clamping down on big-time smugglers. He should be focusing his efforts on the reported smuggling of oil and fuel and other basic commodities like rice and palm oil, and in ridding the bureau of corrupt inspectors which are the main culprits why tons of taxpayer’s monies are lost by Customs in the first place. Let us not forget the 2,000 container vans which were inexplicably “lost” by Customs a few years back, during the early part of this administration. With due respect to the remaining honest lot in the bureau, these activities could not have transpired without the collusion of their operatives.

We therefore re-echo calls for the conduct of a lifestyle check on Customs personnel, and strongly support House Resolution 2311 which seeks to investigate and determine how the bureau has been spending its intelligence funds. If it cannot locate 2,000 container vans and identify the culprits who are smuggling fuel, then we need to know how the bureau has been using its intelligence funds. And just for the record, how many big-time smugglers have they managed to put behind bars under this administration? Given these, all the hullabaloo about running after technical smuggling and tax evaders via balikbayan boxes is pure hogwash, and is nothing but a sign of desperation on the part of the BOC to raise funds for the administration’s battle chest in preparation for 2016.

Why deprive our overseas kababayans of this small gesture of happiness for their loved ones back home? We all know that the bulk of the contents of these boxes are canned goods, like corned beef and fruit cocktail, which are so precious especially for those in far-flung barangays. Anyway, what can you expect of a leadership far removed from the ordinary Juan Dela Cruz and which grew up too privileged to have a notion of the lives of the C, D and E class?

This is the kind of feudal elite mentality that should not be allowed to continue to lead.

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