British Columbia·Mabuhay B.C.

These Christmas packages are destined for the Philippines — but floods have delayed them from being shipped

Recent disruptions in the supply chain due to flooding in southern B.C. have delayed many balikbayan boxes — gift packages sent by overseas Filipinos to their families in the Philippines — from being shipped.

Shipping containers used to transport the boxes by sea have been in short supply

Hundreds of balikbayan boxes destined for the Philippines sit at a UMAC warehouse in Delta, B.C. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Damage caused by flooding in B.C.'s interior has resulted in a backlog of balikbayan boxes: gift packages sent by Filipinos living overseas to their families in the Philippines.

Every year, Filipinos all over the world ship thousands of these packages, which are filled to the brim with gifts, food and toys. The items are often hard to find in the Philippines, and in some cases are also expensive. 

"I've been hearing from some of our other friends who've been sending boxes to the Philippines that some of the boxes that they sent in November have not even left the country yet," said Ria Abesamis, an immigration consultant in Surrey, B.C., who has been sending balikbayan boxes for the past five years.

"It's tradition," said Abesamis. "When somebody leaves the Philippines to go abroad, it's kind of expected … that when you get to your destination, you'll send them some things through a balikbayan box."

The Tagalog word balikbayan means to 'return home' or 'return to one's country,' and there is an entire shipping industry built around this tradition of sending balikbayan boxes.

Ria Abesamis packs a balikbayan box at her home in Surrey, B.C. on Dec. 9, 2021. The boxes containing various items are traditionally sent by Filipinos living abroad to their families back home in the Philippines. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Backlog of boxes

But recent disruptions in the supply chain due to flooding in B.C.'s Interior and the Fraser Valley have severely delayed many boxes from being shipped.

The majority of boxes are transported in shipping containers by sea to the Philippines. The containers, many of which make their way to the coastal ports by rail, have had to wait for railways through the Interior to be repaired. 

Staff at Star Box Express Cargo, pictured in December 2021, load balikbayan boxes destined for the Philippines onto shipping pallets in Richmond, B.C. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

While repairs to some rail lines in southern B.C. were recently completed, the backlog it caused is now trickling down to the shipping companies, including those dedicated to balikbayan boxes, in the Lower Mainland.

"The railroad is broken," said Daisy Mallares, who runs Star Box Express Cargo, a company that exclusively ships balikbayan boxes.

Daisy Mallares has been shipping balikbayan boxes through her company, Star Box Express Cargo, for nearly 12 years. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

"It's very congested … all the ports everywhere in the world right now, because so many Filipino people are sending balikbayan boxes."

"Prior to the pandemic, we already had experienced port congestion," said Donna Sevilla, general manager of the Delta, B.C. branch of UMAC, a company that ships over 36,000 balikbayan boxes to the Philippines each year.

"Deltaport is congested right now, because of the flooding."

UMAC Vancouver manager Donna Sevilla says she's hopeful she can secure more shipping containers to get through a backlog of boxes in her Delta, B.C. warehouse. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

During the week of Dec. 6, Sevilla was able to secure only one container, which holds about 430 boxes. That's left around 600 boxes still sitting in her warehouse.

"We normally have … two to three containers per week," she said. "Hopefully we get two more this week."

While companies wait for more containers, those sending packages to family in the Philippines say it's the thought, not the timing, that counts.

"We don't mind that it's late. As long as it gets there," said Abesamis.

"We do it out of the goodness of our hearts ... It's like you telling them that, 'Hey, I still care for you, even if I'm not there anymore.'"


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Read more stories from Mabuhay B.C. here.

(CBC)

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