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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Inspection plan draws concern of Filipinos

Country is proposing random checks of ‘balikbayan’ care packages sent home by expatriates to needy family members.
From left, Filipinos John Paul, Francis and Angel Laguilles prepare a ‘balikbayan’ care package for family members. Andrew Henderson / The National
From left, Filipinos John Paul, Francis and Angel Laguilles prepare a ‘balikbayan’ care package for family members. Andrew Henderson / The National

ABU DHABI // Filipino expatriates have expressed dismay over their government’s plan to open boxes of personal goods they send home to their families.

Last week, the Philippines bureau of customs announced plans to conduct random inspections of balikbayan – Tagalog for “returning to one’s homeland” – boxes as part of its anti-smuggling campaign.

Filipinos working and living abroad, however, are concerned about the possibility of items being lost or stolen during inspection.

“It’s so disappointing,” said Genelene Acosta, 34, who has worked at an exchange centre in Abu Dhabi for seven years. “I don’t understand why they need to open our boxes. It’s an invasion of our privacy.”

Many of the boxes sent from the UAE to the Philippines contain essential groceries and toiletries.

Ms Acosta, who sends one box each year to Nueva Viscaya province before Christmas, fills it gradually every month with clothes, bars of soap, bottles of cooking oil, packs of sugar, tinned goods and other items.

“I hope the customs officials won’t implement the inspections,” she said.

“These balikbayan boxes are important to us and our loved ones back home. Our families love receiving presents from us, and everyone’s excited to open them.”

Carmen Alianza, who left behind her two children, aged nine and 10, to work as a housemaid in Abu Dhabi, said it was insulting for customs to go through the boxes.

“I felt so upset after learning about the inspections,” said the 34-year-old. “It’s just not right for them to open our boxes, and maybe take some of the items inside.”

Ms Alianza usually sends clothes, mobile phones, school supplies, and groceries and toiletries to her family in Baybay, Leyte.

Luz Galvez, chief executive of Luzan Express Cargo, understood the sentiments of her customers, but insisted contents would not go missing.

“Our customers are required to fill out a packing list and we assure them that the boxes won’t be pilfered or damaged,” she said. “Customs officials are only after boxes filled with goods in commercial quantities, which are not allowed in balikbayan boxes.”

About 5,000 boxes are shipped each month during the peak season of September to November prior to Christmas.

A box shipped via the sea from the UAE usually arrives after about a month in Manila. Those sent by air arrive in four days.

“With the inspections, we expect a delay of about one week,” Ms Galvez said. “But they should learn to trust us and not be swayed by Facebook posts of boxes being pilfered and damaged.”

Joseph Iyo, a sales representative for Makati Express, advised not to send laptops, mobile phones and other gadgets as a precautionary measure.

“There are other ways of inspecting boxes sent by smugglers without the need of opening them,” he said. “But if random inspections will be carried out, it’s best for our customers to send groceries and toiletries in limited quantities and refrain from sending high-value items that could be lost or stolen during inspection.”

Grace Princesa, Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said the embassy was aware of the concerns about the proposal.

She said the inspection plans were being initiated because of “allegations that perhaps some unscrupulous people might be using them for commercial reasons”.

“However, I am sure that the concerned Philippine authorities will study the issue thoroughly before deciding on the matter,” she said.

rruiz@thenational.ae

Published: August 23, 2015 04:00 AM

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