A watchdog group that is untiringly campaigning against the unlawful dumping of hazardous products and wastes in the country’s ports urged the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to target shipping containers loaded with misdeclared goods, not the balikbayan boxes.
“With relatives and friends residing or working abroad, it’s not difficult for us to connect with the anxiety and disgust being felt by balikbayan box senders over BOC’s plan to enforce tougher procedures on such boxes to curb smuggling,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“By and large, balikbayan boxes contain ‘pasalubong’ items, many of which have sentimental rather than commercial value, that overseas Filipinos painstakingly buy, gather and send to their loved ones back home,” he said.
“Hazardous products in huge quantities such as unregistered cosmetics, insect killers and weight loss merchandises, restricted and prohibited drugs, imported firecrackers and fireworks and toys with no product registration, as well as garbage from Canada and probably elsewhere, are being smuggled into the country not by the acclaimed ‘bagong bayani’ of our nation, but by unscrupulous traders,” he stated.
While welcoming President Benigno Aquino III’s fresh directive stopping BOC from conducting random physical inspection of balikbayan boxes, the EcoWaste Coalition insisted that customs authorities should get tough with crooked importers and customs brokers that bring in misdeclared hazardous products and wastes into the country.
“Our customs inspectors know how these misdeclared products and wastes are avoiding detection and confiscation. They are in a good position to wage a war against such illegal imports,” Dizon said.
Dizon’s group has been conducting periodic market surveillance to alert government regulators and the general public regarding the proliferation of such illegal imports.
For example, the EcoWaste Coalition from November 2014 to February 2015 conducted an extensive market investigation that gathered damning proof confirming the illicit trade of contraband mercury-containing skin whitening cosmetics in 50 cities across the country from Baguio to Zamboanga.
The said exposé resulted to the subsequent banning by the Food and Drugs Administration of 24 brands of imported skin whitening creams contaminated with toxic mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can damage the brain and central nervous system, the kidneys and the skin.
As far as smuggled garbage is concerned, the EcoWaste Coalition and other concerned groups and individuals in July this year filed a motion to intervene in a criminal case versus the importer and customs broker of some 55 container vans of Canadian trash for violation of Republic Act 6969, the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act.
The legal step was undertaken to enforce the obligation of the accused to return the illegal garbage imports pursuant to the said law.