by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
From a parcel of goodies to a booming industry
There’s nothing like receiving a big cardboard box full of goodies or pasalubong from relatives overseas.
It’s the warm feeling Manny Paez remembers when he was younger growing up in the Philippines.
“I used to tear open the cardboard box and hang them up along my walls so my friends could see that I’m receiving gifts from my family in the US,” said Paez.
That was decades ago for Paez but the feeling remains the same for many people in the Philippines.
“It’s like opening gifts during Christmas,” said Paez, the president of Manila Forwarders, a Philippine cargo company based in Eagle Rock.
boxes sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) have become a sort of chest of treasures full of clothes, chocolate, shoes, canned goods, rice or other kinds of goodies.
With the influx of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) leaving the Philippines daily and their family behind in search of a decent living in other countries, balikbayan boxes and their contents have become a symbol of love from loved ones when they are away.
And it’s the reason why the number of cargo companies shipping to the Philippines has increased, according to Paez.
According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Filipinos who left for employment overseas reached 761,836. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported that from January to July of this year overseas Filipino remittances posted $9.6 billion, an increase of 18.2 percent in the same period in 2007. The bulk of remittances come from the USA, Saudi Arabia, UK, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, according to the BSP.
While most send money back home to their family, it’s the balikbayan box that adds an extra touch like adding whipped cream on an ice cream sundae. The standard balikbayan box can weigh up to 100 pounds. The jumbo boxes weigh at 150 pounds.
The Washington Post reported that in 2004 Forex, another Philippine cargo company, estimated that at least 300,000 balikbayan boxes are sent each year from the United States.
Paez believes that number has increased yearly because of the large number of Filipinos living in the US now.
“Just for our company, I know we send one to three thousand boxes a week depending on the season,” he said.
Paez began in the balikbayan box industry more than fourteen years ago. A former Marine Sergeant stationed in Maryland and North Carolina, he would send some of his earnings and boxes of goodies to his family in the Philippines.
When he started Manila Forwarders it was just a small mom-and-pop shop operation. Now, according to Paez, it’s grown to be one of the largest cargo companies directly servicing those Filipinos wanting to send balikbayan boxes to the Philippines.
He said that the industry has changed since he first started more than a decade ago.
He credits the advancement of technology for increasing the number of balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines.
“Trade is a lot easier now,” he said. “All a person has to do now is go on the phone, or computer, send an e-mail or instant message to us and we’ll take care of everything. Young Filipinos are sending packages, traders. It’s not just the parents and retired Filipinos living here anymore that send boxes back home.”
However even with the advancement of technology it’s still difficult to sometimes ship boxes to the Philippines. Metro Manila is the easiest place to send a package but those sending packages to far off provinces and areas known as alleged terrorist havens have a more difficult passage.
Paez said that he had to learn the hard way.
“If the package is going to Cebu or Mindanao I have to wrap up the boxes in plastic so that people will think twice about stealing the contents,” he said. “When we go to those areas, there are a lot of checkpoints which are manned by MILF or the military. I had to cut a deal with someone I know from the area so they won’t steal or open the packages.”
Paez said that the most popular time to send boxes home is during the Christmas season and it’s also the most dangerous.
“We send about 3,000 to 4,000 boxes a week to the Philippines during Christmas,” said Paez. “Customers have to be very careful because during that time there’s a lot of fake shipping companies that will lower their price to get their business. The business will then go bankrupt and the people lose out on their money and their belongings inside that box.”
Many have criticized that the contents of balikbayan boxes have become material possessions replacing love and affection from those family members not present anymore.
Paez said that the best way for OFW’s and relatives to show their love is to go back home to the Philippines.
“With the OFW’s spending power we contribute more to the Philippine economy up to $2,500 to up to $10,000 a visit,” he said. “We can also have the joy of watching our loved ones open the balikbayan boxes in front of them.”