Longer jail time and higher fines await Customs and other government employees who will pilfer balikbayan boxes or extort money from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in exchange for the release of handcarried or shipped cargo.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said these increased penalties are but one of the many protections afforded to OFWs in the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) that will be soon sent to President Aquino for his signature.
The bill, Recto said, does not only increase the tax-exempt value of balikbayan box to P150,000 but also provides “stronger sanctions against dishonest government who will use balikbayan boxes for personal profit.”
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 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.
“Kung dati, isang taon lang ang minimum jail time kapag nangotong o nagnakaw ka sa mga balikbayan boxes ng OFWs, ngayon minimum of six years na and maximum of 12 years,” Recto said.
“And before, the maximum fine is P50,000. Under the CMTA, the minimum is P500,000 and the ceiling is P1,000,000,” Recto explained.
He said Section 1431 of the CMTA “is a long list of punishable acts” which those who will implement the CMTA must avoid.
If applied to balikbayan boxes, these would cover, among others, the:
• 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;
• neglecting to give receipts, as required by law, for any sum collected in the performance of duty.
“So officials should think twice before they decide to prey on OFWs sending or bringing in balikbayan boxes. The law provides protection to our modern heroes,” Recto said.
“The proposed law’s message is clear: If we cannot protect our OFWs and Balikbayans, we have no business to be in government,” the senator added.
Earlier, the Senate leader hailed the approval by the bicameral conference committee on the CMTA of the salient provisions of the Balikbayan Box Law (BBL) or SB 2913, which he authored.
Recto filed the bill last August after a public outcry against a Bureau of Customs (BoC) decision to open balikbayan boxes based on outdated regulations.
Recto’s “BBL” was later incorporated into Section 800 of CMTA which allows the sending of balikbayan boxes a maximum of three times in a calendar year, provided that the value of each shipment shall not exceed P150,000.
But for those who will abuse this privilege, the CMTA increases penalties for those who will use the balikbayan box in transporting “dutiable, dangerous, and unlawful goods,” Recto said.