TABS TO RAISE COUNTRY’S COST OF TRADE – PORT USERS
By Chito Junia
While port users are saddled with port congestion related fees still being charged by some international shipping companies, even if the government had already declared the Manila International Container Port (MICP) and Port of Manila (POM) congestion free over a year ago, port users fear that the cost of doing business at the country’s two major ports would spike even higher with the implementation of the Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS) by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) and Asian Terminals, Inc. (ATI), the private operators of MICP and POM respectively.
TABS is an electronic platform for booking truck appointments for pick-up and/or drop-off of containerized vans at the country’s two major ports. This is being pushed by the government and port operators to help facilitate a more organized flow of containers at MICP and POM. This is also part of the measures to avoid congestion at the ports
ATI and ICTSI started the soft implementation of TABS during the last quarter of 2015 by requiring all customs brokers and importers to avail of the system free of charge. However, on March 16, 2016, port operators started collecting a P300.00 booking fee, when booking for a slot in the medium demand zone and P 1,000.00 for a slot in the high demand zone. A late penalty of P 1, 625.00 shall also be charged if trucks arrive two hours late for their appointment and a P 3,251.00 no-show penalty, if they arrive three hours late.
The port operators established a point system and classified the booking slots into four (4) demand zones, namely the free, rebate, medium and high demand zones. Under the free demand zone which starts from ten o-clock in the evening till six o-clock the following morning, brokers and truckers will not be charged for booking an appointment. The rest of the day will either fall under the medium or high demand zone. Sundays fall under the rebate zone where brokers will not only enjoy free appointment booking, but they will also earn points every time they book for an appointment.
TABS to Raise Cost of Trade
Aduana Business Club, Inc. (ABCI) President Mary Zapata, however, says TABS would not only raise the country’s cost of trade, but it will also affect trade facilitation. “We were better off before TABS as once our trucks were issued a gate pass and were able to drop its empty containers at the port, we were assured of getting deliveries within the day. Under TABS, we are not even sure when we can get a booking.” Zapata said.
Among the problems encountered by port users with TABS is getting a booking on line. “Sometimes, it will take you days and so many tries to get an appointment booking on line.” Zapata said, adding that “With the penalties now imposed by port operators, it would be risky for us to make an online appointment booking, unless our containerized vans for pick-up are cleared for release by the Bureau of Customs (BOC). Otherwise we could be penalized if our trucks fail to meet its scheduled appointment. The importance and timeliness of getting a booking when you need it would be crucial under TABS.”
“Moreover, we cannot predict the travel time of our trucks in going to the ports as traffic in the Metro Manila area is terrible and unpredictable, even if TABS tagged trucks are exempted from the truck ban” Zapata further stressed. Under TABS, trucks with scheduled appointments are given a two-hour truck-ban exemption window from their scheduled appointment at the port.
According to Zapata, they raised a suggestion to Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras that, instead of TABS, a 24-hour window for truckers to pick-up or drop-off containerized vans at the ports after they are issued a gate pass would be a better solution to address the concerns of both, the port operators and port users. “We do not know what happened to our suggestion, or if it was even considered.” Zapata said.
For his part, a customs broker who requested anonymity said, even if their trucks arrive at the port area two or more hours earlier than its scheduled appointment, it would still take them hours to get to the port gate because of the long line of trucks waiting for their scheduled appointments as well. With the late and no-show penalties, port users fear that they would still be charged for being late even if their trucks arrive at the port area much earlier than its scheduled appointment.
“I cannot understand why trucks build-up at port gates when they are supposed to have their specific time to be served by port operators.” The broker said, adding that “Unless, port operators are upbeat in serving truckers based on their scheduled appointments, street congestion could remain a problem outside the ports.”
In a brief interview with TradeIn during the March 11, 2016 Port Users Confederation (PUC) organized TABS orientation at the Bureau of Customs (BOC), ICTSI Client Relations Manager Erika Marie Ambrosio said, there are instances when they have to prioritize use of their resources and facilities in serving the cargo handling requirements of ships docked at the piers.
According to Ambrosio, based on their timeline, trucks with scheduled appointments are supposed to be served within 45 minutes from their appointed time. However, Ambrosio said, there are other factors that could affect their timeline.
Port Operators’ Imposed Penalties, Arbitrary
As this developed, port users claim that the late and no-show penalties imposed by port operators are arbitrary.
According to customs broker and ABCI Vice President Lorenzo Tabilog, the penalties must be reciprocal. “If we are being penalized if our trucks arrive late for its appointment, port operators should likewise be penalized for their failure to serve our trucks within their appointed time.” Tabilog said.
“The inability of port operators to provide timely service to trucks with scheduled appointments is part of their inefficiencies. And yet, they are not held accountable for their incapability, while port users are being slapped with late and no-show penalties. This is not fair.” Tabilog said, adding that, “And to make things worse, we are even being made to pay for the inefficiencies of port operators.”
TABS, Work in Progress
According to Ambrosio, TABS is a work in progress and since its soft implementation late last year, they have already made several adjustments and tightening on the system based on actual issues and concerns encountered during the trial period, even as she asked port users for more patience and understanding as they do everything to make the system perfect.
Tabilog for his part said, port operators should only start collecting booking fees and penalty charges after they have perfected TABS, tightened its weak spots and the accountability areas clearly defined.
No Defined Rules and Guidelines
For her part Zapata said, she has yet to see the guidelines and implementing rules and regulations for TABS. “Where is the executive order and/or department order for TABS?” Zapata asked. “We do not know the rules of the game, especially with regard to accountabilities.” Zapata asked.
Port users are hounded by questions such as, where will the funds collected from TABS go. ”With the P 300.00 and P 1,000.00 booking fees alone, this could already run-up to close to a million or more pesos in revenues each day.” Zapata said, adding that “With the Php3,251.00 no-show penalty fee, this could be hundreds of thousands or millions more in added daily revenues.” Thousands of containerized vans are moved in and out of MICP and POM each day. Under TABS, each containerized van to be moved must be booked individually.
Port operators and the government see TABS as a practical and viable solution to maximize port utilization and to avoid congestion. But port users say further studies must be made on TABS and more public consultations undertaken, before they start collecting fees. According to Zapata, in the meetings on TABS she was able to attend and/or invited, these were more of like advisory meetings instead of consultative in nature.
For his part Door-to-Door Consolidators Association of the Philippines (DDCAP) President Joel Longares said, the TABS soft launch which started in late 2015 must be extended further to really tighten the system for its weak points before port operators start charging fees and penalties.