Frankly, I don’t know where to begin. So let me try to tell you the story according to how I remember it. It all began with a package I was sent by a wonderful company in Singapore via DHL, a courier this company had an account with, and is a courier that generally many trust. The package was sent out on August 2 as documented and signed by the sender.

I get an email from a DHL representative on August 5 with 2 attachments:  a request for an “Affidavit of Ownership” (notarized by a lawyer, stating on record that you “own” the shipment– that it’s “yours”), and the Importer’s Verification which is essentially the declared value of the package with a temporary duties and tax assessment– the final assessment of which will be done by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).  The assessed duties fee was unbelievable– it was an astronomical value that even my sender (who has taken responsibility for duties payment, making the package “DDP” or delivery duties paid, balked). And we both questioned how importation taxes and fees were computed (to this minute I remain baffled and clueless), and how ridiculous it was for gift recipients to be paying taxes and duties for his/ her own gift.  Alas, I said, my country is not like Hong Kong. Or Singapore for that matter.

Side note: But then I do know for a fact too that there is a serious abuse of the “personal gift” clause/ declaration when it comes to imported shipments into the Philippines. This is nothing new– many have used that clause, coupled with under- declaring the value of the contents of the package to evade paying taxes. And while there may be truth to packages being “gifts” and for personal use (which is perfectly acceptable), others import things for commercial purposes and under- declare them so that they can sell the merchandise for a better profit margin (and this also creates problems for tax- paying business owners because the”smuggled” imported items sold at competitive prices create a parallel market and pull consumers away from their legit businesses).

Another “Customs Duties and Taxes” side note: This has happened to me in the past– I had been sent several packages with the same declared value to the same address over a 3 month period and on those occasions, the calculated duties and taxes that I had paid on each package were all different amounts. Even after currency fluctuation differences were reconciled, the amounts were still not the same. That has since left me baffled. I’d like to know the official computation of duties of BOC based on declared value– I think this will prove helpful to us all.

And then there’s the issue of the “affidavit of ownership”.  The request for a notarized affidavit of ownership is ridiculous, really. If you are the recipient of the package and if you can already provide a valid ID, isn’t that proof enough that the package is indeed meant for you? Ok, whatever, as that is apparently a “requirement” that needed to be fulfilled for customs purposes. Done.

On the 2nd week of August before I left for Beijing, my affidavit was sent over via email, along with a copy of my passport, with word to the DHL representative that my sender had also informed DHL Singapore that it will be a DDP package– that sender shoulders the duties that Philippine Bureau of Customs will impose. After all requirements were sent back to DHL, my sender and I hoped for a speedy processing time to release the package.

And then calamity struck the Philippines. Rain poured nonstop and left the whole country crippled. I’m not even going to bother going into detail about the other calamity– the high level government “pork barrel” fund- corruption scandal which really rocked the Philippines (as if the Philippines needed more corruption scandals). DHL’s business operations must’ve suffered along with other businesses because of lack of manpower/ skeleton crew (many were affected by the flood and many had lost their homes). Apart from the floods and nonstop rain, there were the non-working holidays. It was insane, all these things happening at the same time. Anyway, the DHL delay would’ve been understandable, and I reiterated to the courier phone representative that I should not be charged any “storage” fee because they are holding the package while it undergoes customs assessment– the delay has nothing to do with me. DHL representative says on record (I recorded the conversation on my phone), “No, you will NOT be charged.”

On the last few days of the week of the 18th, I called DHL for an update. I was told that Bureau of Customs was STILL assessing the package. All this after we had already been advised about the estimated duties and that all requirements had already been submitted. I had even volunteered to DHL that I will personally go there to just wait for the customs official to work on his tax figures on my package. No can do, DHL said.  Sigh. The process was moving at a glacial pace. I was already very embarrassed because I didn’t want my sender to be left with a bad taste in her/ her company’s mouth when it came to how things get done here in the Philippines. But I sensed this was also going to be an inevitable conclusion because of what slow development there was with the whole process. It was very frustrating. To top things off, BOC and its commissioner have social media presence so I tweeted them both upon the advice of some fellow twitter friends. What good is having social media presence when you don’t engage? No good. Which was exactly what happened. After tweeting a number of sentences directly to the commissioner about this situation, I received no reply. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Me thinks the commissioner and the BOC need to delete their respective twitter accounts, stat.

August 27. I called DHL. Finally I was told that the package is already en route for delivery and is with the courier. I waited. No package arrived.

August 28. After I went on my school run with my kids, I came home to be told that DHL had indeed passed by. But did not release my package. Instead, I was handed over an “Inbound Charges Invoice” and in this invoice dated August 23, a detailed breakdown of what I owed DHL.

Aghast, I called DHL’s hotline (the same number I’d been calling to coordinate with their representative for the package’s release since August 5). For a good 48 minutes, I was on speakerphone with yet another representative as I recorded our conversation. Questions I asked:

1. Why am I receiving an Inbound Charges Invoice with Customs and Duties Payable if my sender has already informed DHL that this is to be DDP (sender- billed duties).

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My DHL “Inbound Charges Invoice”

2. Why is there a Storage Fee *see billing details on photo above*  if I was clearly told (and on record) that I will NOT be charged a storage fee, especially since the hold- up of delivery of the package was not my fault at all. The weather being uncooperative is not my fault, take it up with Mother Nature please but don’t charge me for it.

3. And while I applaud DHL’s efforts to recycle, why would they use SOMEONE ELSE’S invoice to print out my invoice/ airwaybill copy?

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This is a photocopy of my airway bill provided by DHL. The folded over portion is another invoice that belongs to another recipient. DHL has recycled and used the back portion of that invoice to print out my airwaybill.

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This was another person’s Inbound Charges Invoice, which was printed on the back of my copy of DHL’s airwaybill

This is an outright violation of that recipient’s privacy (whose name, address, and contact number I now have access to). And what is the assurance that my own information is not passed around in the same way?

After that 48 minute conversation, 20 minutes of which left me “on hold” as the representative tried to connect me to her supervisor, here were their answers to my 1st and 2nd questions, in a nutshell–

DHL: “DDP was advised by sender to DHL on August 24. And apparently the inbound charges invoice was printed out on August 23.”
ME: “Package delivery happened FOUR days after DDP was advised. And package was supposed to be delivered yesterday and today I get an invoice instead of a package.”
DHL: “Delivery was attempted today (Aug. 28) at 10.30am but you were not there.”
ME: “Yes, indeed. But instead of delivering a package to me, your guys left me with an invoice that said ‘for payment ready call 8117230‘, the number which was by the way, ringing and no one was answering. Why double- bill me if it’s a DDP package?”
DHL: “We had sent out an invoice to your sender as this was DDP”
ME: “You sent out TWO invoices? Are the amounts different? I want to know the invoice amount you sent to my sender. DHL is billing us TWICE?”
*Then I was put on hold for 10 minutes because representative had to cross check with her supervisor*
DHL: “The amount on invoice for your sender is different. It has the Customs fee as well as the informal entry declaration fee charged only.”
ME: “So wait, you are no longer charging Storage fee? Then why charge it to recipient if you won’t charge to sender if its DDP?”
DHL: “Billing department was not able to rectify and inform that your package is already DDP. Our apologies for that. You don’t have to pay anything. Please disregard the invoice you received. We will advise courier in Makati to redeliver your package today.”

Ok, so after THREE weeks, package will finally be delivered to me today (I am still waiting for it as I type this, by the way). And now, the matter of PRIVACY– my 3rd question. The DHL Supervisor tells me to call their Customer Service number because she is only a “releasing” supervisor. In other words, this is no longer part of her responsibility.

I have yet to speak to a DHL customer service representative about this “Recycled” invoice/ Privacy breach situation. Frankly I am too drained to do it now, but yes, this is an even bigger issue, one that is cause for litigation if I’m not mistaken (I’m no lawyer in regards to litigation about privacy breaches, but I’m sure if the recipient of the other invoice found out I have his details, he would not be happy).

So there. DHL Philippines, it’s not over. You still have A LOT of explaining to do.