Two legislative measures signed into law recently by President Aquino will boost the campaign of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte against criminals engaged in smuggling, extortion at the airport, and cyber-crimes, according to Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto.
“I commend President Aquino for his parting gift to the President-elect: two significant laws that will help the incoming administration get rid of smugglers, balikbayan box extortionists and cyber-criminals,” Recto said, referring to Republic Act No. 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) and Republic Act No. 10844 which creates the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
“The CMTA and the DICT will not only boost the country’s economy, they also seek to curb criminality through the imposition of stiffer penalties on certain criminal acts,” the senator pointed out.
Recto is the principal sponsor of Senate Bill 2686 or the DICT Act of 2015, which President Aquino signed into law last May 23 as Republic Act No. 10844. He is also the author of Senate Bill 2913, or the Balikbayan Box Law, which was later incorporated into the CMTA as Section 800 by Senator Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means committee.
According to Recto, Section 1431 of the CMTA provides the penalty of six years to 12 years imprisonment and fine of P500,000 to P1 million to government employees found guilty of extorting money from OFWs and Balikbayans with pasalubong cargo.
Additional penalties include forfeiture of all benefits due from service in government as well as perpetual disqualification to hold public office, from exercising the right to vote and to participate in any public election.
Aside from extortion, other activities penalized heavily by the proposed law include:
- tampering of balikbayan boxes;
- demanding other or greater sums of levies on pasalubong cargo;
- receipt of any fee, compensation, or reward except as by law prescribed, for the performance of any duty; and
- neglecting to give receipts, as required by law, for any sum collected in the performance of duty.
Although the provision on the balikbayan boxes is but one of the many in the 311-page CMTA, “it is one that is most awaited by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs),” Recto said.
“Imposing stiffer penalties on these extortionists sends a strong signal that government is ready to use the full force of the law to put behind bars criminal elements preying on our OFWs and Balikbayans,” Recto said.
Recto filed Senate Bill 2913, or what he dubbed the “BBL”, in August last year after a public outcry over a Bureau of Customs’ (BoC) plan to open and inspect balikbayan boxes revealed outdated regulations, one of which taxes any box whose contents is worth more than P10,000.
Under the CMTA, which was signed into law by President Aquino only last Tuesday, OFWs can send up to three P150,000-worth of tax and duty free balikbayan boxes in a year, given that goods are not in commercial quantities nor intended for barter, sale or for hire.
On top of the tax and duty free balikbayan boxes, Filipinos, who have stayed in a foreign country for at least 10 years and are returning to the Philippines, will also be granted tax exemption for the personal and household effects, not exceeding P350,000, they will be bringing with them when they return to the country.
Filipinos who have lived overseas for at least five years will be entitled to tax and duty free personal and household effects amounting to P250,000, while those who have stayed abroad for less than five years can enjoy P150,000 tax-free ceiling.
The law likewise imposes stiffer penalties on the smuggling of goods. It slaps a minimum jail time of 31 days to six months or a fine of not less than P25,000 but not more than P75,000, or both, if the appraised value of the goods were unlawfully imported.
If the value of smuggled items exceeds P200 million, guilty parties shall be slapped with a fine of not less than P50 million, and shall suffer reclusion perpetua as the offense shall be deemed as a “heinous crime.”
Recto said the DICT law, on the other hand, mandates the creation of a “Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center.”
The DICT will also be tasked to formulate the “National Cybersecurity Plan” and form the “National Computer Emergency Response Team,” which, Recto said, will serve as “our IT Special Action Forces or cyber-commandos.”
“This should be our priority, the formulation of a National Cybersecurity Plan. Hacking is now a serious security threat, not only in the Philippines but also in the global arena,” Recto said.
“What we have is a Balkanized system. Personnel investigating cybercrimes are so few and, worse, dispersed among government offices despite the increasing volume of transactions in all kinds of commerce being done online,” Recto said.
He cited the case of the Philippine National Police-Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG), which has a personnel complement of 110, “and this in a country where 70 million have social media presence.”
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), he said, is another “frontline office” which needs more “ICT investigators and equipment to flag cybercrimes and tag those behind them.”
Saying that the DICT should be part of the national security plan, Recto said “we now live in an era when terrorists don’t have to blast bank doors to do mayhem; but simply unleash a virus that could shred or suck out financial data.
“An enemy with a missile is as dangerous as one with malware,” he said. “Countries we are not so friendly with may target us and criminals will always want to hack their way to our financial system,” Recto said. He said the hack-attack on Bangladesh Bank shows that the threat is real and counter-measures against cybercrimes urgent.
“The poor man’s ATM is vulnerable to hacking too. There are identity thefts victimizing ordinary people,” Recto said, citing the 2014-2015 Cybercrime Report prepared by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which ranked the Philippines 39th among countries with Internet threat activities.
The PNP-ACG recorded an increase of 113% in cybercrime statistics from 288 incidents in 2013 to 614 incidents in 2014.
According to the senator, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported 2,872 cases of ATM fraud during that period.