Medical Mission’s Equipment Should Be Tax Free

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – From Balik-Saya (Filipino entertainers) to Balikbayan (Filipino homecomers) then to Balikbayan boxes. Will Balikmangagamut (Filipino medical missioners) be far behind?

In the early part of the martial law government of President Marcos, the Philippines desperately lured disillusioned Filipinos overseas to come home by tugging at their hearts that will also lighten their wallets.

Marcos tried his best to make his overseas countrymen forget their political woes back home by sending away Filipino homegrown entertainers with the likes of Pilita Corrales and the late comedian Bert Marcelo to the United States and other countries with big concentrations of overseas Filipino communities to invite them back to visit their motherland.

Taking advantage of the public relations skills of former newsman Jose D. Aspiras, who became Marcos’ press and tourism secretary, Mr. Marcos signed on to Mr. Aspiras’ “Balik-Saya” program that caught fire and gained wide following.

The program’s popularity soared as overseas Filipinos started trickling back home at the same time getting small tax breaks as a come-on by bringing in some duty-free personal stuff and pasalubongs (gifts) for their relatives and friends that gave birth to the word Balikbayan (Filipino homecomers).

The program became so popular that even after the overthrow of Marcos, his successor, President Cory Aquino, institutionalized the Balikbayan Program by adopting Republic Act No. 6768, which reclassified Balikbayan Filipinos into Filipino citizens, who were continuously out of the Philippines for at least one year from the date of last departure; a Filipino overseas worker (OFW); and a former Filipino citizen, who had been naturalized in a foreign country and holds a foreign passport.


When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took power, she amended RA 6768, by adopting RA 69174, extending shopping privilege at any Duty Free Philippines outlets with up to US$1,500 worth of items within 15 days upon Balikbayan’s arrival in the Philippines (30 days during the Christmas season from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15) and Kabuhayan (livelihood) shopping privilege worth US$2,000 exclusively for the purchase of livelihood tools. Balikbayans can tag along their families and friends, too.

Soon after, nostalgic overseas Filipinos, who could not come home often, were allowed to send their pasalubongs in a corrugated box of personal and non-commercial stuff duty free. It has now come to be known as Balikbayan boxes.

Unfortunately, some of these Balikbayan boxes fell into the wrong hands as some unscrupulous senders were stuffing their boxes with commercial-quantity gifts (for instance, more than 12 of toothbrushes become taxable), the banned firearms and ammunition, and lately disassembled motorcycles, medications, cars, etc.

In extending tax exemption privileges to Balikbayan program, the Philippine Bureau of Customs must be presented with a written endorsement from the relevant government agency; Goods not to be sold, bartered nor traded; Goods are not prohibited importations.

Goods that are restricted or prohibited require endorsement from the proper regulatory agency.Like the Balikbayan program, I suggest, the expensive surgical and other medical equipment being brought into the Philippines by Balikbayan doctors from the United States and Canada should be tax-free because they just donate these equipment to their host hospitals.

This will lessen smuggling activities.

These doctors go on an annual medical mission to treat indigent Filipinos for free and spend tons of their own money for their medicine, medical equipment, fares, hotel accommodations, loss of unearned income, etc. Why should they be asked to pay taxes for equipment they ship to the Philippines when they are not selling, bartering or trading them?

Besides these equipment are not prohibited importations. They also leave hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medications to the doctors, who should follow up the healthcare of those treated by the Balikmanggagamut.

But what the Philippine Department of Health, the lead agency in institutionalizing this program that I call “Balikmangagamutan” (Philippine medical mission) is to strengthen its oversight arm either under Section 105 of the Presidential Decree No. 1464 or the Tariff and Customs Code (R.A.4653) or under the amended Republic Act No. 8981 or “PRC Modernization Act of 2000.”


These oversight monitors should be able to determine the efficacy of the medicine and medical equipment being brought into the country. The monitors should conduct a longitudinal study of the full and side effects of the new medications being administered to the Filipino indigent patients.

If such medications, specially the new ones being introduced into the patients, are not very helpful to the patients, these medications should be banned from getting into the country.

The monitors should also closely make sure that the medications were given to indigent,not to the paying patients. Expired medications should properly be disposed of. In one of the medical missions at Jaro, Iloilo hospital some years ago, Dr. Vicky G. Navarra of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan recalled that its chief anesthesiologist told the hospital nurse “alam mo na ang gagawin mo sa mga gamut na ‘yan?” (You know what to do with those medications) when Dr. Navarra asked the nurse to dispose of the expired medications, meaning those medications would still be used.

The same anesthesiologist event took pride in publicly saying that when they have “expired morphine, we would transfer it to a new bottle,” according to Dr. Navarra.

If some local officials, like mayors or governors, are appropriating monies to register indigent patients, such funding should not go to the moneyed patients or the hospital employes or the local officials, themselves. This should be monitored, too, by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

If Balikmangagamut would be found out to be doing some malpractice, the Philippine government should use the 1,200 Philippine pesos (US$28) these doctors are now paying to secure their Special Temporary Permit as premiums to buy these doctors’ malpractice insurance from local insurance companies.

Just in case, there is death and injury to the patients treated, the relatives of the patients can collect for damages for what I call accidental injury and death and let the rest of the law take its course.

Unless it is proven that the injury or death is intentional, it is very hard to charge doctors with serious physical injury or homicide as doctors swear to the Hippocratic oath of primum non nocere (first do no harm).

I always liken missionary doctors to foreigners, who are allowed to drive in a host as a courtesy to foreigners using the foreigners’ own driver’s licenses only within a few months of their arrival, like in the United States. Foreigners are usually courteous drivers. If they are involved in an accident, chances are it is purely an accident. Nothing intentional. Foreigners will find it hard to run away from the scene of an accident when they try to mix with the general population of a different race and they are not even familiar with the terrain of the place.



You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.