(Marketing Director, BeamAndGo, Albert Christian Go)
It was in August when the Bureau of Customs (BOC) announced that it would start to impose taxes and inspect balikbayan boxes.
In less than a day, blood was boiling amongst OFWs demanding the government to scrap the plan or they would stop monthly cash remittances to their families.
Just search for the hashtag #notoBOCbalikbayantax. You will feel the pulse of angry Filipinos blurting out profane laden language (for good measure).
The controversy erupted like wildfire, deadlier than the haze in Singapore. Within weeks, the government had no other recourse but to strike down the plan to randomly inspect balikbayan boxes upon direct orders from President Benigno Aquino III.
Bottom line: Your voices were heard and the government responded (albeit miraculously).
I was once an OFW. I lived in Singapore for over 4 years because at that time, I felt that was my only way to escape the poorly thought out policies of the government. Just imagine. Taxes are at an astounding 32% compared to Singapore that gives tax relief to our first $30,000. I often asked myself, “Where can I earn the money to buy my own house, get married, or support my parents?”
In January 2011, I took the leap of faith and got employed at a non-profit organization that provides mentoring for children and youth. If I factor in the taxes, my salary in Singapore was 6 times more than what I would get in the Philippines. It didn’t help that I often read news of bogus NGOs and senators pocketing hundreds of millions. DAMN! This is hopeless, I said.
If I were to have it my way, I wouldn’t leave my country! Not by a long shot. I missed my mom, dad, and everyone who was there to provide support. Although my job was very noble (a non-profit organization for children and youth), I had to hustle at work and wrestle with my emotions every night. The distance could break your heart (literally) in many aspects, believe me. I had to cling to my goals and motivations and of course my faith in the Almighty.
But I had no choice. It became a necessity. If you think we left because we simply want to travel and explore the world, it’s safe to say you’re grossly mistaken. We’re not that shallow.
Like millions of Filipinos, we packed up simply because we saw a fair and equal employment opportunity in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and other countries. To be honest, every country seemed better.
For many OFWs, it seemed as if our talents are better appreciated overseas whether we are occupying a skilled profession or not.
Myrna Padilla, whom I recently met in Davao, spoke at the Mindanao Federation in Hong Kong last October 17. Her life is an inspiration to many OFWs. Having worked in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for 24 years, she is now the Founder and President of OFW Watch and Mynd Consulting.
We also had the absolute pleasure of meeting Cindy Pesidas Encabo (Chairperson) and Aura Ablin (Treasurer), who spent more than decade in Hong Kong. Today, Mindanao Federation exists because it provides much needed support for Minadanaoans.
At that event, I also spoke about BeamAndGo and how we contribute to the financial freedom of Filipinos through our digital gift certificates. If you are an OFW, I’ll personally invite you to watch this short video.
Together with Raizza Encinas we spent hours interacting with dozens of Mindanaoans. Believe us, they want to return to the Philippines. One of them even angrily told me, “We are sick and tired of politicians promising to install generators, provide jobs, and end war.” It’s almost as if they have all given up.
Having said so, 2016 will be the most important year for Filipinos. If you want your voices to be heard, at the very least, you should vote for national candidates who would enact genuine change – lower taxes, infrastructure, and promote quality education.
If we vote for the right candidates, we would never have to endure another BOC scandal. It’s election season and again we are reading news of lawmakers promising to reduce taxes. Click here for the Inquirer story titled “Lower income tax pushed.” My only piece of advice, if any lawmaker reads this (I wish!), is to follow through your talk in media. After you get re elected, just do it!
As a Filipino, let’s give it a shot! Let’s vote. Maybe…just maybe..we could all return home one day!