Balikbayan box – that box associated with Filipino culture. As the holiday season starts, hundreds of boxes coming from Filipinos from all over the world are making its way to Philippine soil, with thousands of families eager to open them up.
What exactly is a balikbayan box? Why has it become a part of Filipino families especially during Christmas?
Balikbayan Box, defined.
According to the Bureau of Customs, balikbayan box is a pasalubong or a package of personal effects sent by Filipinos either living or working overseas to their families and relatives in the Philippines. The sending of balikbayan box started in the 1980s as a result of the surge of Filipinos working in the United States.
Initially, it was subject to taxes until then President Cory Aquino Executive Order No. 206 declaring the said boxes duty- and tax-free on non-commercial goods up to P10,000. This is in response to the sacrifices and hard work done by Filipino migrant workers and its positive effect on the Philippine economy.
In 2016, the Customs Modernization Act was signed into law by then Pres. Noynoy Aquino thereby increasing the tax ceiling to up to P150,000.
At present, OFWs are allowed to send a box once every six months. There are also more balikbayan boxes sent during September to December because of the Christmas season.
Controversy surrounding balikbayan boxes
It was sometime in 2015 when then Customs Commissioner Albert Lina declared that Customs can open the boxes for inspection since many OFWs are abusing their privileges.
To avoid drawing further flak, the Bureau of Customs issued Customs Memorandum Order 27-2015, which states that balikbayan boxes will be subject to x-ray scanning. In case of suspicious items like firearms and illegal drugs, Customs officials, together with OWWA representative, designated officer of OFW association, apprehending officer, and freight forwarder consolidator, can open the box for inspection. Eventually, this rule was “relaxed” and may be opened in the presence of the recipient of the box or any authorized representative.
At present, senders of balikbayan boxes are required to disclose and paste a detailed list of all the contents of the box. At the same time, purchase receipts for brand-new goods must also be presented. The recipient of the said box must also show that s/he is a relative of the sender.
The good news: this new rule is suspended and will come into effect on March 2018.
Balikbayan box: More than just a box of goodies
Here’s the thing about balikbayan boxes: it’s not always about what’s inside. Sure, you would often fill it with Spam, chocolates, shoes and clothes you bought during sale, lotion, perfume, canned goods, and some of your kids’ bilin for their Christmas gift among many others. If budget permits, you can even send two boxes filled with the same goods.
More than the contents, a balikbayan box becomes the tangible connection between you and your family even if you are miles away. You spend considerable amount of time to carefully pack away the items while giving them a kiss and hug, hoping that these goods would do the same for your family you left back home.
A balikbayan box becomes a symbol of your love, hard work, and sacrifices to be able to provide a better life and future for your family. It is a sign of your thoughtfulness and selflessness because you prioritize your needs first more than yours. As you close your eyes, you would imagine the smile on their faces when they see the things you bought and saved up for.
More importantly, a balikbayan box is a way of bringing joy and keeping your family happy while hoping that all of the items you carefully chose and pack will be put into good use. After all, you’ll never know what will happen and let the box speak in your behalf while giving all the love your family deserves.