`Balikbayan boxes’ issue renews call for resumption of exam area

THE CONTROVERSY on the Balikbayan boxes has renewed the call of some civil society organizations to use x-ray machines like the one in the city that was shelved when it became a subject of litigation between its operator and the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Part of the suggestion is for the BOC to institute the involvement of mechanisms where third party groups will be tapped to ensure that there is transparency.

“We need to push for the citizens ombudsman mechanism where we have a third party that will help BOC in doing their job.” said Mussolini S. Lidasan of the People’s Action Against Corruption, one ofthose groups calling for the reinstatement of the designated examination area (DEA) of businessman Rodolfo C. Reta.

Aside from Lidasan’s group, also calling for the resumption of the DEA operations has been Ehem!, anti-corruption group headed by Ateneo de Davao University priest Albert E. Alejo.

This developed as senators are planning to investigate the agency next week in relation to the Balikbayan boxes as its commissioner, Alberto D. Lina, is a known official who has strong ties with logistics companies .

Sen. Francis Joseph G. Escudero, who visited the city last weekend, said the agency has not done enough in running after smugglers, but has focused its attention on cargoes from other countries that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are sending to their families.

“There are bigtime smugglers, but I have yet to learn of any that they (BOC) have brought to court. And the were focusing their attention to small Balikbayan boxes,” said Escudero, pointing out that the problem of opening the boxes would inevitably lead to stealing.

He said if the agency wants to open boxes, it must be able to institute mechanisms that will not only result in payment of taxes on possible taxable items, but more importantly protecting those OFWs sending the boxes.

Lidasan told the TIMES that the BOC, to be able to ensure that no taxable items or contrabands are prevented from entering the country, must reopen the DEA of Mr. Reta which the agency closed down five years ago.

The agency, then under collector Anju Nereo C. Castigador, closed down the DEA on the allegation that it was not doing its job.

However, Reta brought the case to court as he claimed that his DEA, which the government contracted for 25 years, was closed down because he reported that he discovered undocumented cargo of rice.

Because of the controversy, the agency was forced to auction off the cargo.

Reta was eventually vindicated when the court declared the closure of his DEA illegal, but it has yet to resume its operations.

Last year, then Customs commissioner John Philip P. Sevilla said he would consider the resmption of operations of the DEA, dependent on the volume of cargoes as well as other circumstances, particularly the fight against corruption and the entry of smuggled items, including prohibited substances.

At that time, Sevilla noted that the agency had raised alert order on about 80% of cargoes, or just a fifth of these cargoes were clean.

Also last year, authorities were able to seize a cargo of cocaine inside a van that was parked at a private wharf, which proved to be true the warning of then retired military officer Reynaldo Mapagu six years ago that some groups might use the ports to bring in contrabands including bombs.

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