Sen. Bongbong questions BoC at the Joint Senate Committee Hearing on Balikbayan Boxes

Bongong Marcos Lina Dellosa_Balikbayan Box

BBM: Sino bang nag-utos na baguhin ang polisiya ng Bureau of Customs na buksan, imbis na gaya ng dati na hindi na binubuksan ang balikbayan box, at kayo’k nagdeklara na ang bagong polisiya ng Bureau of Customs ay bubuksan lahat ng balikbayan box?

Comm. Lina: Nagsimula po ‘yan [noong] kinausap po namin yung mga freight forwarders. Ang sabi ko sa kanila, “Ito ang nangyayari…”

BBM: So ang sinasabi ninyo is that the freight forwarders were the ones, sila ang naki-usap sa inyo na, “Pwede ba buksan ninyo lahat ng balikbayan box?”

Comm. Lina: Hindi po.

BBM: Sino ngayon ang naka-isip ng bagong polisiya na iyon?

Comm. Lina: Kami po.

BBM: Sino si “kami?” Ikaw o…? Sympre, wala namang ganitong polisiya hanggang pumasok ka, so ang iisipin naming lahat ay galling kay Commissioner Comm. Lina ‘yan.

Comm. Lina: Opo, pero iyan, ginagawa na noong araw naming.

BBM: Hindi. Hindi talaga ginagawa noong araw iyan eh, kaya nga nagkagulo ng ganito, kaya ngayon nagrereklamo ang ating mga OFW, dahil dati, wala namang ganyan, but ngayon, nagkaroon. Anyway, kung iyan ang naging bagong polisiya ninyo, saan nanggaling yang bagong polisiya na iyan? Ano ang naging dahilan kung bakit naisip ninyo na “Siguro, dapat ngayon palitan natin ang dating gawin at gagawin natin ay bubuksan na natin lahat ng balikbayan box?”

Comm. Lina: Tama po kayo diyan, sapagkat mayroon po mga []ory reports also at gingagamit po ang ating “balikbayan box” sa mga illegal drugs…

BBM: Itong mga report na ito, haka-haka lang ba ito? Chismis? Or mayroon kayong investigation report na nakakapag-sabi na nakahuli kami ng ilang balikbayan box na ang nilalaman ay armas, droga, kontrabando? Na nakalagay “Sa palagay naming, mga 30% ng mga balikbayan box ay may problema or ginagamit sa hindi tamang paraan?”

Comm. Lina: Mayroon po.

BBM: Nasan ngayon?

Comm. Lina: Ibibigay po naming sa inyo.

BBM: Sa report na iyan, ilan ang estimate ng mga imbestigador ninyo na sa balikbayan box na ginagamit sa drug smuggling o sa pag-pasok ng mga contraband? Ang hinahanap ko dito ay numero para makita natin kung gaano kalala ang problema na na-identify ninyo.

Representative: Bibigyan po kayo naming ng report.

BBM: Wala ba kayo diyan? Para maging maliwanag sa ating mga miyembro kung gaano ba talaga… How large is the problem and was it so large that it justified triggering this change in policy?

While you are looking for that, tuloy-tuloy ang usapan natin. Noong naisipan ninyo itong policy na ito, nakipag-ugnay ba kayo sa COA, sa POEA, sa DFA regarding this? Halimbawa, suggestion, “Iniisip namin baguhin nag polisiya ng BoC at bubuksan namin ang lahat ng balikbayan box. Ano sa palagay ninyo?” Mayroon na ba kayong ganong klaseng konsultasyon?

Comm. Lina: Ang konsultasyon pong ginawa naming, through the freight forwarders. Nagpatawag po ako ng meeting na ganoon po ang aming gagawin.

BBM: Pero hindi konsultasyon iyon. You are enforcing, kayo mismo nagsabi. Ibis sabihin, you are not consulting them, you are informing.

Comm. Lina: Tama po kayo.

BBM: So did you have consultations? Nakipag-meeting ba kayo sa representatives ng DFA, COA, POEA, grupo ng mga OFW at sinabi ninyong nagkakaproblema, kailangan buksan na ang mga balikbayan box, ano sa palagay ninyo? Mayroon na ba kayong konsultasyon na ganon?

Comm. Lina: Wala po

BBM: Ah wala? Ah sige, okay. Ang naging simula nito lahat ay inyong claim, dahil sinabi ninyo na ginagamit ang balikbayan box para mag-smuggle ng drugs at armas. Iyon nga po ang tanong ko sa inyo, ilan na nga? Comissioner DepComm. Uvero was waving his hands earlier, maybe we have those figures now.

DepComm. Uvero: Our Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, Jessie DepComm. Dellosa

BBM: Let’s hear from him please.

DepComm. Dellosa: Good afternoon, your honor. Actually have here mga record of seizure ng mga customs, covering 2014-2015. Sa MICD alone, mayroon pong 7 containers na apprehend.

BBM: Anong nilalaman ng mga containers na ito? Balikbayan box ba ito?
DepComm. Dellosa: Actually lahat po ng pumapasok doon sa MICD, balikbayan box.

BBM: Okay.

DepComm. Dellosa: Nakahalo po to doon sa mga containers na may balikbayan box. I would like to give an example. Mayroon pong isang vehicle, used. Nakahalo po ito doon sa mga balikbayan boxes na nasa loob ng area.

BBM: Yes, pero ang sinasabi mo ay ang pag-bukas ng container. Ang tinatanong ko ay kung ilan yung balikbayan box na may baril, na may shabu, na may mga contraband na kahit anong klase. Syempre pag-bukas mo ng container, may balikbayan box. Hindi na relevant ‘yon. Ang pinag-uusapan dito ay ilang ang identified ninyo na kaso na ang Comm. Linaman ng balikbayan box ay droga at armas? ‘Yan ang inyong statement eh, that balikbayan boxes are being used to smuggle drugs and firearms. How many cases do you have on record that a balikbayan box contained arms or drugs?

DepComm. Dellosa: I will be very specific, your honor. Ako ay sa intelligence group, were able to apprehend only two. Dalawa lang po. Ito po yung-

BBM: Two balikbayan boxes?

DepComm. Dellosa: Not actually two balikbayan boxes, pero isa po yung consignment po.

BBM: Let us limit our discussion to balikbayan boxes dahil ‘yun ang usapan dito.

DepComm. Dellosa: Tama po yon, isang container-

BBM: Okay. Ilan ang balikbayan box na nahuli ninyo na ang Comm. Linalaman ay armas o droga?

DepComm. Dellosa: Hindi po armas, it was commercial goods.

BBM: Hindi iyan ang ginawa ninyong dahilan kung bakit ginawa ito eh. Ang public pronouncement ninyo ay ginagamit ang mga balikbayan box upang magpasok ng armas at tsaka mga droga. “Dahil doon, kami ngayon sa BOC ay magbubukas ng lahat ng balikbayan box.” Okay. Sigurado naman ako na hindi ninyo gagawin ito kung walang dahilan. Ngayon ang hinahanap ko sa inyo ay kung ano ang dahilan na iyon. How many balikbayan boxes have you opened that contained arms or drugs?

DepComm. Dellosa: So far, your honor, negative sa balikbayan box.

BBM: So where did the information that balikbayan boxes are being used for arms and drugs come from if you have none of your own experience?

DepComm. Dellosa: Your honor, yung mga nahuli na drugs, ito po yung mga outbound shipment.

BBM: Okay, hindi na balikbayan box ‘yan. There is no balikbayan box going OUT of the Philippines. Balikbayan boxes only come IN to the Philippines, as far as I understand. Am I correct?

DepComm. Dellosa: Tama po, your honor.

BBM: So huwag na nating pag-usapan yung outbound. Hindi balikbayan box ‘yan. Ang nais ko lang pagusapan ay balikbayan box. I understand that your investigation ranges not only on balikbayan boxes, but the issue of the day is balikbayan boxes. So let us focus on that.

You have already stated that no balikbayan boxes have been found to contain arms or drugs so far. Baka maraming naka-lusot, pero so far wala naman kayong nahuhuli?

DepComm. Dellosa: So far sa record namin wala, kung balikbayan ang pag uusapan.

BBM: Maybe I should turn to the Commissioner. Commissioner, what was the basis of your statement that balikbayan boxes are being used to smuggle arms and drugs if there was no such incident recorded by your own investigative arm?

DepComm. Uvero: I started only as your Commissioner in the last three months, where there are some reports that I received that it (a balikbayan box) was going to be used for the smuggling of drugs.

BBM: Where did those reports come from?

DepComm. Uvero: Some of those reports are coming in from different sources. As a matter of fact we did receive outside calls.

BBM: You know, if I was a competitor of somebody, I would say that my competitor is smuggling drugs and guns para guluhin ko lang yung buhay niya. But that doesn’t mean that it’s true. Just a call? Just a letter? That doesn’t mean a thing. You have to investigate, you have to prove at least to yourself, if nobody else, that this is what is happening. Find out the truth!

DepComm. Uvero: We have the reports here if you want.

BBM: Who are they from? Where do those reports originate from? From the AFP? From ISAP? From PNP intelligence? Where do these intelligence reports come from? Sa inyo lang, internal?

DepComm. Uvero: Well, we received also reports-

BBM: (Pointing to presentation.) Yes, these are very nice pictures, but where did these come from?

DepComm. Uvero: Sir, actual huli po yan sa airports.

BBM: Okay, fine, but we are talking about balikbayan boxes. There is apparently no record – Deputy Commissioner Delloso just said there is “negative” – ang nahuli na balikbayan box na may laman na armas o droga. Iyan naman ang statement ninyo, I’m just taking it from your statement.

Where did this information spring from?

DepComm. Uvero: Sir, actual iyan.

BBM: From whom?

DepComm. Uvero: That is our apprehensions.

BBM: But these are balikbyan boxes? (Examines presentations.)

DepComm. Uvero: That is coming from our enforcement group, Mr. Senator. We have a copy here of our apprehensions.

BBM: But all of these are… tingnan mo, “One unit, used Honda motorcycle. One unit Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Hindi naman kasya sa balikbayan box ang motorsiklo.

Angara: Malaki-laking box ‘yan.

DepComm. Uvero: Boss, parts po ‘yan.

BBM: Hindi parts ang nakalista dito.

Angara: (Starts calling representatives to speak while BBM reads the list). Dep. Com. DepComm. Dellosa, then former Commissioner Biazon, and then Atty. Mangawa.

DepComm. Dellosa: Actually, your honor, yung mga baril, sa parcel po ito.

BBM: That’s fair enough, that’s okay. Pero ang pinag-uusapan dito ay balikbayan box so let us stay focused on the subject at hand. What we are talking about is why did you institute the new policy of wanting to open all the balikbayan boxes? Commissioner Comm. Lina, you just told me that it was your initiative. I am not asking, what was the basis for that change in policy? Apparently we have no record of any balikbyan boxes actually being found to contain arms and drugs, as you publicly declared! You identified the problem as being that balikbayan boxes are used to smuggle dugs and arms. Now, we find out, that your intelligence department has no record of any balikbayan box ever containing drugs or arms. Now, then, I do not understand why you decided to undertake this policy. And I think, at this point, since at least we have found already that the balikbayan boxes are not, infact, being used to smuggle drugs and arms – or, if so, it s a small fraction of the other drugs and arms that are being smuggled through packages, though containers and other contraband, isama na natin yung mga motorsiklo, mayroon pa dito jetski, magaling masyado yon, pinag-kasaya yung jetsi sa loob balikbayan box.

My point is, I am happy that you have retracted this policy. All that is left, I think, when are you going to apologize to our OFWs? When are you going to admit to your mistake? When are you going to realize that hindi na Pilipino ang galaw na ito. This is being unkind to the people who are keeping our economy alive. You know, they make P25 billion, there are fees taken from that P25 billion from the government. Then now, these small, small gestures of affection and remembrance you are now going to cause problems with that. And it turns out, there is no basis!

There have been – let me repeat it, because I was expecting that you would give me some numbers – but apparently it’s even less than I thought. It is zero. Zero balikbayan boxes have ever been found to contain arms or drugs. And so, this feels arbitrary. And because of that arbitrary change in policy, I think what is in order is that the Bureau of Customs and you, Commissioner Comm. Lina, just issue an apology, admit that you were wrong. Tell the OFWs, “We care for you. We value you. We are not trying to harass you. We are not accusing you of being smugglers. We were trying to do our job, but we went down the wrong path. I am sorry.” Madali lang naman yan eh.

And I think it would be much appreciated by our OFWs.

I would ask, who would like to speak as an OFW representative.

Sen. Villar: Chairman, may I add. I would just like to add that this is the second time. The first time was when they asked the balikbayan to pay the P550 travel tax kahit na exempted sila doon.

BBM: Ah, yoon, iba ba ‘yon.

Sen. Villar: And then, nagmatigas din si General Enrado. Hindi nila binawi ‘yon, hanggang ngayon nasa court case pa, at pina-inhibit pa nila yung judge para hindi madesisyonan ‘yon, so hanggang ngayon nagbabayad ang mga balikbayan ng P550 kahit na sa law, exempted sila. So that is the first time, and this is the second time. Parang mayroon silang sunod-sunod na tama sa atin eh. Sana huwag naman, kase, pag-iinterviewing sila [they say OFWs are] “our modern day heroes,” tapos sila yung tama ng tama sa ating mga policy. So siguro it’s time that we really work hard na bawiin, ‘to lahat, kase nakakahiya.

Sen. Angara: That’s a good point, Sen. Villar, and we’ll assure that the OFWs that they’ll have their time to speak after Sen. Marcos.

BBM: No, Mr. Chairman, I was going to give the floor right now to anyone who would like to speak as the representative of the OFWs?

Connie Regalado (Migrante International): Gusto ko lang pong i-reiterate…

BBM: Before we get to that, I just have a quick couple of questions for you. What is the penalty for drugs and firearms use for smuggling purposes, in the Middle East, for example. Maybe any of the others?

Representative: Sir, we actually have an OFW vacationing from Saudi Arabia here… Jom Mellanesa.

BBM: I will ask you, ano ang penalty sa Saudi Arabia pagka may nahuling may armas o droga, na halimbawa sinusubukan mong ilagay sa balikbayan box para ipadala sa Manila.

Mellanesa: Actually po, sa Saudi Arabia napakahigpit po talaga at ang mga terrorist po ang ano..

BBM: Anong gagawin sa’yo?

Mellanesa: Death Penalty po yun, pugot-ulo po yun.

BBM: Death penalty yun? Kaya siguro naman walang sira-ulong Pilipino ang makikipagkagulo diyan sa ganiyang klase ng operation. Mayroon ba kayong natatanggap na guideline sa balikbayan box na sinasabi, hindi ba mayroon kayong pre-departure orientation seminar ng mga OFW?

Mellanesa: Opo, mayroon po.

BBM: Okay. Ipinapaliwanag ba doon sa, ito ang polisiya ng Bureau of Customs na kailangan ganito, na kailangan ganiyan ang gawin ninyo?

Mellanesa: Opo, tama po. Lahat po ng mga pagbabawal ay ibinibigay po sa amin, ipinapaalam po sa amin. At sa 20 years ko po na OFW, wala naman pong nangyari na nagkaroon na, ng insidente na nagkaroon ng ganoong kaso.

BBM: Ikaw ba’y nandito para magbakasyon?

Mellanesa: Opo.

BBM: O umuwi ka na ng permanente?

Mellanesa: Ako po’y nakabakasyon na, August first po by September 15 po balik po ako.

BBM: Actually para makatulong din tayo doon sa diskusyon ni Sen. Recto tungkol sa balon ng mga gamit. Kung ikaw for what ever reason, napilitan kang umuwi ngayon, magkano ang balon ng mga gamit na naipon mo na? Na nandoon kung saan ka naninirahan sa Saudi Arabia, sasabihin mo eto pagbibigay ko na, eto ipbagbibili ko, pero ito iuuwi ko. Yung mga gamit nay an, ano sa palagay moa ng value niyan?

Mellanesa: Okay po. Sa pag-uwi ko po ako dito, gumastos po ako ng almost 30 to 50,000. Pasalubong lang po sa aking pamilya.

BBM: 30 to 50,000 pesos?

Mellanesa: Opo.

BBM: Ano yung mga bagay-bagay na yun?

Mellanesa: Yun po ay mga sabon, pabango. Hindi ko, wala pong mga gadgets dito kasi po..

BBM: Wala man lang electronics, television, CD player?

Mellanesa: Wala po

BBM: iPad, walang ganoon?

Mellanesa: Wala pong ganoon.

BBM: O sige. Parang typical naman yun e. Diba sa loob ng dalawampung taon marami ka ng nakitang balikbayan box, halos pare-pareho lang naman ang inuuwi e. Shampoo, laruan, snickers dahil bago pa wala pa sa Pilipinas.

Mellanesa: Opo.

BBM: O yan, yang ang mga nakikita natin pag balikbayan boxes.

Speaker 2: I’m sorry, can I also see your..?

John Bertiz: John po.

Sen. Angara: Please identify yourself, which organization you represented maybe tell a little bit about your organization, how many members etc., anong countries?

John Bertiz: Magandang hapon po honorable Senators, ako po si John Bertiz, ang spokesperson po ng OFW Advocates Coalition, consisting ng 20 different migrant groups worldwide, kasama rin po ng CSO rito. So ang sa akin lang po yung CSO.

Sen. Angara: Ano po yung CSO? What is CSO?

John Bertiz: Civil Society Organization po tulad ng …

Sen. Angara: Anong bilang po ng inyong grupo? Ano po yung bilang ng inyong membership po?

John Bertiz: Ang PEDA po which is the, our arms in abroad, overseas mayroon po kaming members na 300,000 and 60 administrators and ang Ople Center din po, ganoon din po ang LBS at iba-iba pang grupo ng aming coalition sa, mayroon din pong mga United Sea Fares nandito rin po. Ang KAKAMMPI andiyan din po, ang Laminex which is the federation of service exporters, ito rin po ang mga nakipaglabaan doon sa aming terminal fee.

BBM: Alright, please go ahead if you wanted to say something.

John Bertiz: Yung hawak nyo po dear Senators na mga pictures, actually nakita po namin sa mga presentation ng BoC yan last Monday during the walk through. Tinutulan ko nga po yun kasi yung mga litrato po na pinepresent nila na binibintang bilang balikbayan boxes ay hindi naman po talaga mga balikbayan boxes kasi an gaming mga boxes po, lahat po ng side ng aming mga boxes po may pangalan ng aming pamilya at ganoon din po, nagbibigay po kami ng tulad sa Saudi Arabia noong nandoon po ako, bago po ako makapagpadala, hinihingi po ang kopya ng aming resident’s ID so, paano hong ibibintang sa amin yung mga drugs at baril na yan?

BBM: Oo nga. Kahit nga Customs sinasabi hindi naman daw nasa balikbayan box kaya’t nakakapagtaka kung bakit umabot nga sa ganito. Anyway, Ms. Ople, you wanted to add something?

Susan Ople: Doon lang po sa punto ng public apology. Bakit po ba ito mahalaga sa mga OFWs? Kasi po very public po yung campign na ginawa ng BoC at napanood po talaga worldwide. So pag hindi po nacorrect yung impression na yun, mayroon po tayong mga foreign employers sa mga host governments, mahirap naman po kung nakabitin lan, hindi kasi naming alam ung yun na lumalabas naman ngayon at nagpapasalamat kami sa senado, hindi kasi naming alam yung sa sector naming na mayroong dinagdag na singilin na puwedeng ipasa sa OFW. Hindi rin po naming alam kung bakit yung intelligence records pala ng BoC ay zero yung pagpapa. Alam naming yun na imposibleng may OFW na irisk yung kontrata niya para magpadala ng drugs na ang sender ay nakalagay ang address ng kanyang pamilya. Common sense na lang yun. Ngayon, ang hinihingi na lang po namin public apology and then policy coherence and clarity dahil po naghahanda na po ng padalang pampasko yung ating mga OFWs. Lagi pong sinasabi kailangan ipatupad yung batas, ay obvious naman po na hindi relevant yung batas na yun, ipapatupad pa po ba yun? Kumbaga parang may sort of (25:53) sa mga OFW ngayon, hindi nila alam kung saan sila lulugar. Ang gusto lang naman nila mapasaya ang kanilang mga pamilya.

BBM: Okay. So maliwanag na hindi lamang dahil sa sama ng loob at tampo ng ating mga OFW, mahalaga ang apology. But even the hirability dahil sasabihin ng mga, masisira ang reputasyon ng Filipino workers kung ang gobyerno natin mismo ang nagsasabi ‘ang mga OFW nay an ay mga smuggler ng droga at saka armas.’ Ay sino nga naman ang gustong maging employer ng isang smuggler ng droga’t armas, kaya’t I think, that is an added dimension as to why that apology is very important. And I will, I dare Mr. Chairman, merely to reiterate that there is a need for that apology. At least as public, an apology as the declaration of this new policy and something that will be, that our workers to ensure to their employers that’s not true. That is a mistake and that was an anomaly in the policy of our government, they trust us, they think highly of us and so should you. And that is not a small thing when you are trying to work abroad, when you are trying to be an OFW. So idiin ko yun Chairman, Commissioner. Ididiin ko kung maaari lang, at kung ano yung publicity na nakuha nitong back change of policy, paliwanag ninyo, ‘hindi binago namin, hindi na naming bubuksan, at wala kaming hinala na an gating mga OWF ay naging smuggler ng armas o naging smuggler ng droga. And I think that will go a long long long way to giving them peace of mind, giving the employers peace of mind, and to you Commissioner, you’ll find some peace of mind also in your new job. But in any case, I will end there Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

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