DUBAI: Filipinos all over the world traditionally make their presence felt to their family and friends back home by sending a balikbayan box. This is especially true during the yuletide season, which is very well celebrated in the Philippines.
A balikbayan box is synonymous to a Filipino’s expression of love and is considered sacred by many, considering the many hours and efforts spent in choosing which particular items should go into it, not to mention the price of the goods and the cost of shipping.
Filipinos in the UAE are expected to send 45,000 balikbayan boxes, also called care packages, every month between October to February. These boxes’ contents have an estimated aggregate value of Dh900 million or about PhP11.6 billion.
Various cargo forwarding companies said Filipinos send boxes during this peak period to ensure that gifts and goods intended for their loved ones reach them in time for Christmas, New Year, or even Valentine’s Day.
While expectations are high among forwarders in this season of gift giving, a number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) on the otherhand said they’d rather send money in the aftermath of the controversy over the inspection of the care boxes by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) back in August and the ensuing confusion on the issue despite the government’s assurances to the contrary. (Please see interview box)
Figures and contents
BomanBaldano, managing partner at Oceans Gate Cargo Forwarders who also has years of expertise in the shipping industry, said each balikbayan box contains goods worth Dh2,000 to Dh4,000.
This puts the approximate amount of balikbayan box contents at up to Dh180 million each month or Dh900 million for the whole five-month peak period.
Mark Octavios Cesar V. Agalo-os, LBC Express vice president for Middle East operations, said items most often included in a balikbayan box are new and old clothes, shoes, bags, chocolates, canned goods, gadgets and groceries like sugar, bath and laundry soaps, cooking oil, even rice, and toiletries.
He said most sent gadgets are mobile smartphones, tablets, laptops and game consoles, which are all taxables.
Baldano said grocery items account for the majority of the shipments. He added that LCD plasma TVs, which are also taxable, are preferred to be boxed and crated separately. “Depending on its size, a sea shipment of an LCD plasma TV to Manila costs between Dh350 and Dh550,” Baldano said.
DivinaTibigar, marketing-in-charge at Makati Express Cargo, said their company has been shipping up to eight 40-foot containers of between 300 and 400 balikbayan boxes in varying sizes every week.
“Upon collection from the OFWs’ flats, we bring them straight to the warehouse where the containers are on standby to transport them to the Jebel Ali seaport for shipment,” Tibigar said, adding that the boxes are shipped directly to Manila and Cebu ports.
Tibigar said some OFWs are still wary about sending balikbayan boxes home because of the issue on the BOC inspections, which has apparently lingered. “What we tell them is as long as you don’t put in things that are not allowed, you have nothing to be worried about,” Tibigar said. (Please see related box)
Citing Makati Express Cargo’s operations in the past weeks, Tibigar said things are not as they were before. “Hindi katuladnuongnakaraan (not like in the past),” she said.
Agalo-os said that to address this concern by OFWs, LBC has recently partnered with some e-commerce sites which cater to those who want to purchase highly in-demand items such as TVs, mobile phones and other gadgets from the UAE to be shipped straight to their loved ones anywhere in the Philippines in just 7 days or less, making it the most timely gift for their family and loved ones during the holidays.
Meantime, the rush to bring care boxes to the Philippines almost inevitably creates a bottleneck especially at the Philippine ports considering the volume of balikbayan boxes coming in.
To this end, Agalo-os said LBC “encourages its customers to send as early as mid-September to early October for their boxes to reach in time for Christmas.”
“Our teams inform customers of the cut-offs for the holiday season and we make it a point that the customers are informed of the estimated arrival of their packages to manage expectations,” he said.
Moreover, he said that in an effort to cater to the growing demands of customers who also do their last minute holiday sending, “LBC has enhanced its air cargo service which now has ‘daily uplift’ for urgent requirements, and regular uplifts four times a week.”
The company has also done other means like shipping boxes to alternative ports that enables faster delivery time even outside Manila and into provinces from Luzon down to Mindanao, Agalo-os said.
Meantime, Baldano said it takes Oceans Gate approximately 35 days for a sea-bound balikbayan box to reach its final destination in Manila counting from the day it was picked from the sending OFW’s flat in the UAE; it takes between 40 and 50 days for Visayas and Mindanao destinations, he said.
Agalo-os said LBC takes “generally from 35 to 60 days from date of sailing depending on locations from cities to provinces and ranges depending if it is to Manila, Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao.”
Baldano said BOC clearance procedure may take two to five days depending on availability of the designated custom officer. (Please see infograph)
“The procedures of Customs clearance in most countries in Asia is lengthy, tedious and time-consuming. The difference is that (Manila gets a) bigger volume of personal effects that OFWs send back home to their loved ones. This alerts and attracts the Customs’ attentionto these shipments, quite obviously like honeytothe bees,” said Baldano.
“Upon clearance, the boxes are then arranged for delivery to different destinations within the Philippines. Boxes for Metro Manila could be delivered to the consignee door in one to two days. However, Mindanao boxes could take up to another two weeks,” he added.