Senator Sonny Angara has called on the Department of Finance (DOF) to give the appropriate tax benefits due to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as intended by the provisions on balikbayan boxes under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).
During an oversight committee hearing on the review of CMTA’s implementation, Angara has asked the DOF to revise its implementing rules on duty and tax-free balikbayan boxes, under Customs Administrative Order No. 5-2016, that states, “all balikbayan boxes per sender in any calendar year shall not exceed P150,000.”
The lawmaker pointed out that such rule is contrary to the intent of the law which provides that OFWs can send up to three P150,000-worth of tax and duty free balikbayan boxes, or not exceeding P450,000 in a year, given that the goods are not in commercial quantities.
“Ang intensyon ng CMTA ay gawing tax-free ang balikbayan boxes na may halagang P150,000 times 3 kada taon, at hindi P150,000 divided by 3. Ipinasa natin ang batas na ito bilang pagkilala sa laki ng kontribusyon ng ating mga OFW sa ating ekonomiya. Ibigay sana natin kung ano ang nararapat para sa kanila,” Angara said.
DOF Assistant Secretary Mark Joven, during the hearing, explained that there is an “ambiguity” in the language of the law, hence the different interpretation of the Finance Department on the said provision.
Rep. Sharon Garin, a member of the oversight committee and who was part of the CMTA bicameral committee, said the DOF should have referred to the records of the bicam hearing in determining the intent of the law.
Angara noted that during the deliberation of the CMTA, it was revealed that an ordinary OFW usually sends a balikbayan box to his or her family every three or four months.
“Ang bawat balikbayan box ay karaniwang naglalaman ng P80,000 worth of items. Talagang pinag-iipunan po ito ng ating mga magigiting na OFW. Kung kaya, para dagdag pakunswelo sa kanila, ginawa nating P150,000 ang tax-free kada kahon,” the senator said.
He further stressed that exempting balikbayan boxes from taxes means “doing justice to OFWs who remit billions of pesos every year.”
The CMTA also provides for a less intrusive examination of goods brought in to the country, in order to prevent the alleged tampering of balikbayan boxes from happening again.
Angara urged the DOF and the Bureau of Customs to immediately resolve the issues on the implementing rules of the balikbayan box law especially as Christmas season nears.
“Magbe-Ber months na naman po at sigurado akong nagsisimula nang mamili ng mga ipapadala ang ating mga kababayan abroad. Noong nakaraang taon pa namin naipasa ito. Sana ay mapakinabangan na ngayon ng ating mga OFW ang mga benepisyong hatid ng batas na ito,” he said.