Senator Maria Josefa Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate economic affairs committee, has called on the government to “turn the bane of smuggling into a boon for poor students” by donating cellphones, tablets, and laptops confiscated by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) before online learning picks up in October.
“The BoC generously donated almost 800 smuggled vehicles to the police, military and other government agencies last July. Why can’t it solve the worries of thousands of poor students by donating confiscated electronic gadgets?” Marcos asked.
Marcos said that attempts to illegally import electronic devices are likely to increase as social distancing caused by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic keeps product demand high.
Instead of their disposal or auction, smuggled items could be donated by the government 15 days after they still remain unclaimed by their importers, following a notice of pending forfeiture, Marcos added.
In August, the BoC reported confiscating some 29.5 tons of cellphones, storage devices, and electrical items that lacked clearances from the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Optical Media Board (OMB).
The past year, P100 million worth of cellphones, cellphone batteries and tablets from Hong Kong were intercepted in July alone at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, with another P15 million worth of second-hand cellphones, lithium batteries and phone accessories from South Korea confiscated the following month at Manila’s international airport.
“A single cellphone or laptop would be a huge boon to a mother struggling to buy food, pay electric bills, and now access online,” Marcos said.
A brand-new laptop with a 14-inch screen costs about P15,000 to P20,000, while a second-hand one can be bought online for P4,000 and a brand-new mini version with a 10-inch screen for P6,000 to P10,000.
Prices do not include accessories including a mouse, headset, charger, or laptop cover that cost about P500 each.
An internet connection costs P1,000 to P2,000 monthly besides an installation fee of P1,500 upward, leaving poor students no choice but to avail of data load promos from internet service providers, the cheapest being P50 usable within three days.
“A family with three children would need upwards of P25,000 to buy two laptops, install an upgraded internet connection, and require one parent to dedicate a minimum of four hours a day to overseeing their childrens’ education,” Marcos said.
“Doing this can cost a parent his or her job or make him unable to find one. Now, how many Filipinos have a spare P25,000 to buy cellphones, laptops and these now vital educational tools?” she added.