BalikBayani République | Tony Alabastro
Pre-COVID Balikbayan boxes filled with goodies are no substitute for breadwinners’ presence on Christmas. Because I come home once a year, my kids call me Father Boarder.
Oversized balikbayan (coming home) boxes full of goodies OFWs send to our families before Christmas have mee goreng (instant noodles), chocolates, clothes, toiletries, coffee, canned food, lotion, powder, shampoo and more giveaways.
My window shopping for my wife’s November birthday ends up with over 40 stuff toys in a balikbayan box cargo people bring to the toy store, seal and pick up for loading on ship at Brunei’s gateway, Muara Port.
“A lot of overseas Filipino workers who can’t go home due to pandemic are sending more balikbayan boxes to their loved ones in the Philippines.
Instead of spending for air fare, they send food as “ayuda,” (assistance), says Alvin Banadera aka Mohammad Azlan, Mex Tiki Cargo Managing Director.
“More frequent senders are those with small salaries, compared to professionals whose families are in Brunei,” says this odd jobber who set up his own door-to-door sea cargo company with one staff and one second hand station wagon in 2005.
“So if we had six boxes in Kuala Belait, we made three trips to bring them our Bandar warehouse, 100 kms away. Our pickups in other districts had to wait.”
Today, Banadera has an eight-vehicle fleet, including a 20-box capacity truck.
In 2017, Banadera introduced to Indonesians in Brunei the balikbayan box concept by tying-up with Jakarta’s 50-year-old, largest domestic cargo and remittance firm, Tika.
Bandera’s 42-inch tall “Ayuda” box, because of its size, is also called “For Good” balikbayan box.
The town’s biggest box can fit in a sewing machine usually broken into two regular-sized boxes.
From his office beside Bandar bus station, where OFWs enjoy free wifi, big TV, karaoke and coffee on Sundays and hold Christmas or birthday parties for free, Banadera relates:
“An amah inherits an employer’s refrigerator in Kuala Belait to send to herPhilippine family. No sea cargo company wants to accept it.
“Amah says she has only B$350 in 50 cents coins saved for the B$450 freight cost, which I accept for her family to have its very own first refrigerator, with clothes and canned goods packed inside.
“In Kg Pintu Malim, (where the first Philippine Embassy sat atop a hill over-looking the Brunei river in Kota Batu), Dondon Nuyda and I pick up a Cavite-bound balikbayan box, which falls into the water.
“Because the water taxi where the cargo is being loaded is tied loosely, Dondon lets the box take a river bath instead of him.
“The box floats and is reloaded after 30 minutes. Intact are the television, clothes and groceries inside the sturdy box. Satisfied OFW cooks us lunch in gratitude,” says Banadera.
When ayuda balikbayan boxes arrive for recipients, shipper takes photo as proof of delivery to overseas sender who forgoes homecoming and quarantine welcome in COVID’S time.