PRESS STATEMENT August 28, 2015
Yves Nibungco, Organizer, Filipino Immigrants and Workers Organizing Project (FIWOP)
Joelle Eliza Lingat, Chairperson, Anakbayan New Jersey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jersey City Pinoys slam plans to ‘open’ Balikbayan boxes, joins ‘Zero Remittance Day’
Jersey City, NJ – Jersey City-based organizations Filipino Immigrants and Workers Organizing Project (FIWOP) and youth group Anakbayan New Jersey (ABNJ) joins the call of Overseas Filipinos for a global day of action dubbed as “Zero Remittance Day” last August 28 to protest the Philippine government’s recent policies of taxing, random inspection and seizure of ‘balikbayan’ boxes. This protest, according to economists, will cost the country around Php3 Billion worth of remittances.
Members of both organizations went from store to store around Newark Avenue, a hub of Filipino owned businesses, to distribute information and urge Filipinos to join the Zero Remittance Day. Local cargo shippers expressed support but expressing that they have already been forced to increase the costs of their services $7, $11, and even $14. This is due to the additional Php100,000 fee on the 40-footer cargos entering the Philippine ports and is part of the government’s plan to raise Php600 million worth of revenues.
Bureau of Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina recently proposed stricter policies on handling Balikbayan boxes. “Canned goods, grocery items and other household effects must not exceed a dozen a kind, while apparel whether used or new must not exceed three yards per cut,” Lina said. “Home appliances are not allowed unless these are consigned to returning Filipino residents and overseas contract workers. We will seize these prohibited shipments and revoke registrations of forwarders or consolidators if we find any violations,” Lina added
According to Anakbayan NJ member, Ana Robelo, this scheme is not more than to extract more money out of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). “The taxation of the balikbayan boxes is only a symptom of the larger function and reach of government being run like a business or what we call as Bureaucrat Capitalism. The Philippine government’s Labor Export Policy is set up to bring revenue in through its overseas workers through remittances. At its root, workers should not be displaced just to provide for their families and the government should not be further feeding itself from that labor.” said Ana Robelo, ABNJ member
This recent policy has earned the ire of OFWs worldwide, including Filipinos in Jersey City. “Lagi akong nagpapadala ng balikbayan boxes, mga tatlong beses sa isang taon. Nagpapadala ako bago mag pasukan sa eskwela, bago mag pasko at pag may espesyal na okasyon. Bakit kami ang pinagiinitan ng BOC at hindi yung mga rice smugglers at mga basura galing Canada?” [I always send balikbayan boxes, three times in a year. I send before school starts, before Christmas and when there are special occasions. Why is the BOC picking on us and not the rice smugglers?] said a member of FIWOP.
This reflects the widespread anger and frustration of many overseas Filipino workers and migrants regarding the new policies. Although taxes and fees have consistently been on the rise, services have are sub-par if at all in existence.
“Coming back from the Philippines I have seen first hand the conditions of our people back home. The economic policies already bring about a brain drain within our country as well as push our people abroad making our country reliant on remittances and balikbayan boxes from these family members. Taxation put upon them would only further the injustices our people face. Moreover, seeing that the conditions of our people have further worsened and the corruption of government-collected money only brings up ideas that the money from this taxation will be used in the same way,” said Daniel Santiago, ABNJ Solidarity Officer.
Due to pressure, the Philippine government withdrew its plans on conducting random checks of boxes but has yet to drop its increased fees and taxing. FIWOP and Anakbayan NJ calls on Filipino migrants and other organizations to unite and continue taking action and exert pressure on the BOC and the Philippine government.