MORE PORT WOES by Jun Moralde
The international shipping lines may have thought that they could do away with their continued collection of port congestion related fees by just eliminating the “port congestion fee” item in their billing statement, even as they continue to collect emergency cost recovery surcharge and container imbalance fee among others to create consistency with the government’s declaration in March 2014 that port congestion no longer exist. But port users are not taking the issue with their hands down.
Professional Customs Brokers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PCBAPI) president, Nilo Casas, says that charging the importers with container imbalance fee is purely a logistical problem of the shipping companies, which the shipping companies are taking advantage of to earn more at the expense of importers. He said that the problem of shipping companies is more of logistical squeeze which they must find ethically acceptable solutions to protect consumers from being burdened by the increase in prices of commodities due to higher importation costs.
For his part, Michael Mertalla, a practicing customs broker and former college Dean of Customs Administration of Asian Institute of Maritime Studies (AIMS) slams the shipping companies for holding the container deposit for more than three (3) months after it is returned to the shipping company’s container designated yard for the “empties.” Worse, according to him, the whole amount of container deposit is not returned as deductions are made with no detailed explanation. Brokers cannot file an immediate protest on the alleged illegal deduction as refunds are made through designated banks.
Importers and customs brokers allege that shipping companies are deliberately withholding immediate reimbursements of container deposits to earn more profits from interest of bank deposits, which if translated to the sheer number of containers, would amount to millions of pesos. Container deposits are paid in advance by customs brokers and refunded by importers upon presentation of receipt by the brokers.
Added to the woes of the importers is the reported profiteering scheme of container yard operators. Truck owners have alleged that empty containers are not accepted for deposit by the yard operators by conveniently saying that the “yard is full.” But when the truckers acceded to the demand of three thousand pesos (P3,000.00) for every empty container returned, the space is readily available – giving the truckers no choice but to give- in to the demand but charge the expenses to the importers who will ultimately pass on the illegal exaction to the consumers.
The exploitation of customs brokers and importers by the shipping companies and private port service providers thrive because of the government’s neglect. According to some port users, the failure of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to reasonably regulate the payment of storage fees, terminal handling fees and other port services fees is partly to blame for their port woes.
PCBAPI and CCBI officers Nilo Casas, Michael Mertalla, Rey Soliman, Armando Chan, Felix Pica and Reynaldo Moit also scored the government’s failure to utilize its vast coercive and persuasive powers to convince the shipping companies to lower their various rates to more realistic and reasonable levels to protect the consumers. They said that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under which the Consumer Protection Group (CPG) falls, must initiate a dialogue with the shipping companies in coordination with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), and the Bureau of Customs (BOC).