After a public outcry, President Benigno S. Aquino III stopped on Monday, August 24, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) from conducting physical inspections of homecoming giftboxes, locally known as balikbayan boxes.

“The President has instructed the bureau to immediately do the following: First, there will be no random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. Moving forward, all containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory X-ray and K-9 examination — at no cost to the sender or the OFW,” the BoC said in a statement.

If Customs will conduct a physical inspection, Aquino said that it should request that an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative or a designated officer of an OFW Association be present with provisions for CCTV monitoring of the inspection areas.

Employees who violate the protocols and engage in pilferage will be prosecuted and punished, according to Aquino’s instructions. He also encouraged the public to submit videos and photographic evidence of illegal acts to Lina.

Malacanang’s move to stop the Bureau of Customs (BOC) from opening balikabayan boxes is a welcome development, Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo said on Tuesday.

Romulo said the BoC should run after syndicated smugglers, instead of “nickel-and-diming” the balikbayan boxes of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“We welcome Malacañang’s directive for the BOC to halt the ransacking of balikbayan boxes. To begin with, it serves no purpose other than to aggravate our OFWs who, on account of their endless foreign exchange remittances, are supposed to be our economic heroes,” Romulo said.

“It is embarrassing for government to resort to a nickel-and-dime operation targeting our OFWs, ostensibly to fight smuggling, when in truth we have countless well-entrenched smugglers — of rice, fuel, sugar, pork, cigarettes, liquor and so on — roaming free,” Romulo said.

Bureau of Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina promises however, to continue with the task of stopping contraband from reaching the streets. His rationale for tightening policies about balikbayan boxes stems from instances of smuggling in said boxes:

1. Gun parts, ammunition and gun accessories were found in seven balikbayan boxes, while 81,529 tablets of anti-anxiety drugs were misdeclared as food supplements in November 2014.
2. Some 413 Casio G-Shock watches and even a custom Harley Davidson Chopper motorcycle of a Hollywood scriptwriter in 2011, among other high end car parts, were also delivered through balikbayan boxes.

Lina earlier claimed that the country loses P50 million in revenues a month due to technical smuggling through the balikbayan boxes.