THE Bureau of Customs (BoC) launched Wednesday a tracking system for balikbayan boxes going through stages of clearance at the agency as a measure to streamline operations and reduce “scams” in their processing.

Assistant Commissioner of the Post Clearance Audit Group Vincent Philip C. Maronilla told BusinessWorld that parcels and balikbayan boxes can now be tracked through the Balikbayan Box Tracking System (PBTS), which can be accessed through the BoC website.

PBTS was launched on Wednesday.

“The system can provide updates about the parcel or balikbayan box as it goes through the different stages of customs clearance which also enables the Bureau to monitor the efficiency of BoC officials and personnel,” BoC said in a statement yesterday.

Mr. Maronilla said that the users can check on the status of parcels and balikbayan boxes through their respective tracking numbers.

The shipments have time stamps to allow quick identification of delays.

“The parcels have timestamps so we can also monitor ‘yung mga tao namin kung pinapatagal nila yung processing, bakit nagtatagal, may reason din dun (we can monitor our personnel who may be delaying processing and determine the reason behind the delay),” he said.

A link directed to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is included in the website to provide users a way to check if the forwarding companies or consolidators are legitimate.

“It’s a very helpful tool and it’s very timely,” he added.

Mr. Maronilla said the balikbayan box tracker was first launched in 2015 but the BoC had to shut it down to fix some issues and expand the system to allow it to also track parcels.

“Around 2014-2015, we had a balikbayan box tracker that we launched linked up with the DTI bat nagkaroon ng problema dun sa search engine nya (but we encountered a problem with the search engine) when the forwarders stopped sending the data that we required,” he said.

Separately, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said he will order the BoC to “alert their counterparts in China and all the ASEAN countries to the practice of exporting untaxed cigarettes” to the country.

“We are increasing vigilance against non tax-paid cigarettes from all sources,” Mr. Dominguez told reporters in a mobile phone message on Wednesday.

Recently the BoC and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) seized millions of pesos worth of tobacco products.

On Wednesday, BoC seized P95-million worth of 2,727 master cases of smuggled cigarettes in Sulu while the BIR confiscated around 145 master cases containing around 1.45 million sticks of Chinese cigarette at a warehouse in Binondo, Manila on Oct. 25.

Republic Act No. 11346 was signed in July, increasing the excise tax on tobacco products to P60 per by 2023 from the current P35. — Beatrice M. Laforga