Trail goes cold in case of missing ‘balikbayan’ boxes and vanishing freight forwarders

By Cristina DC Pastor

This is a story familiar to many of us who have experienced shipping ‘balikbayan’ boxes around the holidays with relatives receiving them several months later, or worse, not receiving them at all.

The story of Tess Madamba, a caregiver from Queens, is our story. She sent several ‘balikbayan’ boxes to her family in the Philippines through two delivery companies. She is still waiting almost a year later.

On June 5, she requested shipment of three boxes to Manila with Sansu International in Brooklyn. Tess thought that by shipping early, the boxes would arrive in time for her family to enjoy expensive toiletries, electronic toys, and designer clothing for Christmas.

“The manager said the shipment will leave the following week,” Tess told The FilAm.

On September 19, she sent an additional three boxes through Sansu. Again, the manager gave her assurance the shipment would leave before the end of October.

On October 19, Tess shipped three boxes but tried a different cargo forwarder, RDR Cargo Express in Queens. An employee said the boxes will leave the same week.

We’re talking nine boxes here whose trail went cold.

“When (the manager) of Sansu picked up the next three boxes in October I asked when the first three boxes will arrive in Manila. She said the shipment left in July 2015 because they were not accommodated in the last shipment. She also assured me that the last three boxes will be in Manila before Christmas,” said Tess, pleased that Sansu appeared to be on top of her account.

When nothing was heard from her relatives in Manila about boxes arriving during and after the holidays, Tess called Sansu again.

“I called the manager several times to follow up the delivery but her only response was that the shipments were already in Manila but can’t be released by the Bureau of Customs pending payment of the required customs duties and taxes,” she recalled. “(She) even said she has to leave for Manila after Christmas to personally attend to the issues at hand.”

Starting January, however, Tess has had no luck contacting Sansu. “I can’t anymore contact them by phone and can’t even leave a message because the mailbox was full,” she said.

Tess’ experience with RDR is almost identical. She was assured her boxes, shipped in October, would arrive before Christmas. When nothing was heard about the boxes after the holidays, she called RDR to follow up.

“Sometime in January the lady I talked to on the phone said the shipment left November 6, 2015 and it was already in Manila. These will be delivered right away upon release from the Bureau of Customs,” she said.

Lucky for her, two boxes were delivered first week of February, but one box shipped in a different container remained unaccounted for.

“I tried to contact RDR by phone, but like Sansu they can’t be reached anymore,” she said. “Same problem with RDR.”

Emails from The FilAm to Sansu and RDR remained unanswered. Their websites appear to be unavailable.

The ‘balikbayan’ box is a cultural symbol of the overseas Filipino’s devotion to his family. It is regarded with reverence, and opening it is considered a violation of privacy like opening a regular mail. A box usually contains intimately familiar items — such as rubber shoes, imported chocolates, perfumes and toiletries, canned goods, cookies, towels and bed sheets, toys and small electronics, etc. — that are usually expensive in the Philippines and which the overseas Filipino wants his family to have and enjoy.

Going after undelivered ‘balikbayan’ boxes is a challenge.

To begin with, not many lawyers will take on such small-claims cases. But this is not to say that the aggrieved customer has no options available to him. Philippine diplomatic posts around the world have issued guidelines on how to seek redress against shady cargo forwarders. A written complaint, complete with documentary evidences, such as official receipts and cargo receipts, may be filed with the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry-Philippine Shippers Bureau by fax at (02) 751-3305 or email at There is no guarantee the cost of boxes will be recovered or that the cargo company will be held liable. It is best to keep in mind the embassies’ constant reminder: Deal only with PSB-accredited freight forwarders.

“Many of our ‘kababayan’ who trusted these cargo forwarders felt cheated with what they did to our ‘padala’ to our loved ones,” Tess lamented.

A day after this article was published, RDR proprietor Rommel del Rosario sent an email to The FilAm to state his company is still in business but with a new website:

He did not directly address the case of Tess Madamba but issued the following statement: “Currently we are in the process of recovery and catching up with the delays. This week we have two containers to deliver and next week another one container. Boxes are safe and will be delivered but delay is already inevitable due to partnership mishaps and customs changes. We also changed our delivery company in the Philippines and were a victim of a middle man (name deleted) which was arranged by our former partner who took the money that was remitted and intended for container release and delivery.”

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