(File photo)

MANILA – Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez has filed a bill seeking to exempt from all duties and taxes all balikbayan boxes sent to their loved ones by millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other Filipinos abroad.

The proposed measure is contained in House Bill (HB) No. 6752 entitled, “An Act instituting the Expanded Balikbayan Program, amending for the purpose Republic Act 6768, as amended by Republic Act 9174, and for other purposes.

It provides that balikbayans would be entitled to ship home one box a month, which would be exempt from taxes and duties imposed under the National Internal Revenue Code and the Customs and Tariff Code regardless of the value of its contents.

The proposed amendment would also require the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to use “non-intrusive” methods in inspecting arriving balikbayan boxes. Under the measure, packages could be opened only under certain circumstances.

Rodriguez said families and relatives of OFWs and other Filipinos abroad receive an average of 400,000 balikbayan boxes every month.

“These balikbayan boxes serve as the enduring testament to their sacrifice and hard work in order to secure a better future for their families back home. They represent their love and care for their families, who have to endure months or even years of separation from each other,” he said.

In proposing the ‘tax exemption’ and ‘no-opening-of-packages policy’, the Mindanao lawmaker invoked a Constitutional provision, which says: “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.”

Rodriguez considered his proposal as a way for the state and the government to give back to OFWs and other Filipinos living abroad, who send home billions of dollars and other foreign currencies a year.

“Their remittances contribute significantly to our nation’s economic growth. Some economists even say the funds our overseas workers sent home keep our economy afloat,” he stressed.

In 2022, OFWs alone sent an estimated USD30 billion to their families and relatives.

Present BOC rules set a value limit of PHP150,000 for every package, which would be subjected to non-intrusive inspection technologies such as X-ray or through the use of sniffer dogs.

They could be opened only when the consignor’s export declaration and packing list are not attached to the boxes or when the BOC receives written information that the shipped items are banned, prohibited or regulated under existing laws.

The bill also expands the definition of a balikbayan’s family to include not only his spouse and children but also his parents, grandparents brothers and sisters (whether full blood or half blood), and relatives within the fourth degree of the relationship.

It defines a balikbayan box as a “receptacle of personal and/or household effects, including livelihood tools, in non-commercial quantity.” (PNA)