Palace favors Recto bill raising ‘balikbayan’ box tax-free ceiling

MALACAÑANG welcomed Sen. Ralph G. Recto’s proposal to raise balikbayan boxes tax-free cap to $2,000, from $500 per box set 25 years ago.

However, the Palace made no commitment that President Aquino would certify the bill’s approval by Congress as urgent.

Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr. said in a news briefing on Wednesday that the Executive branch would review the balikbayan box tax-ceiling proposal, but they would need to study it first.

It’s high time that our lawmakers studied the changes needed to address the issue, Coloma said in Filipino.

“We will review the proposals and see what is the most logical position the government can uphold, but only after we have read and understood in full the proposed bill of Sen. Recto,” he added.

However, Coloma indicated that they see no urgency in approving the proposed balikbayan box law ahead of at least five other “priority bills” that Mr. Aquino asked lawmakers to pass during his recent State of the Nation Address in July.

Coloma said the Palace, nonetheless, needs to immediately decide on the proposed bill, and its inclusion among other bills certified as urgent. The priority bills are the General Appropriations Act for 2016; the Bangsamoro basic law; the Anti-Dynasty Law; the Uniformed Personnel Pension Reform; and the Fiscal Incentives Rationalization bill, according to him.

In addition, Coloma said, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) had also listed 26 other pending measures that the PLLO classified as “priority legislative bills.”

At the same time, the Palace is unfazed by the impending “No Remittance Day” declared by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The declaration came after the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said it is imposing additional clearing fees of P100,000 to P200,000 for container vans carrying balikbayan boxes sent by OFWs. Migrant workers said they believe the fees would be passed on to them.

Signaling that the Palace saw no cause for concern, Coloma recalled previous “no remittance” protest actions by OFWs.

The experience was in 2013, at the height of the Priority Development Assistance Fund,  or pork barrel, he explained in Filipino. He added that there were no reported negative effects during that time.

“That’s the basis; that’s why the call not to remit to their families here is no cause for concern,” he added.

The secretary pointed out that a refusal to remit or delay the remittance of OFW earnings to their relatives is a personal decision of the worker concerned.

Coloma surmised that there would be delays in remittances, but OFWs may not be thinking not to send money eventually.

OFWs belonging to the group Migrante and based in the Middle East announced a “Zero Remittance Day” on August 28 in protest of the BOC to randomly open balikbayan boxes sent by OFWs. The group said it would continue the protest action, despite the Palace decision to stop the BoC from implementing the plan.

According to Migrante’s John Leonard Monterona, about 1.2 million OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and 400,000 in the United Arab Emirates would participate in the protest action..


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