The Money Trail at the Ports

By Chito L. Junia

 

WHOEVER thought that only Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) officials, customs brokers, port and warehouse operators and truckers are getting a slice of the millions of pesos that exchange hands at the ports daily, either legally or illegally?

Apparently, the money trail at the ports goes all the way up from the lowly security guards up to high officials of the government and private port stakeholders. 

There was a time at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) when the “haoshiaos” (pseudo operators and employees) flourished as they allegedly handled the illicit deals of some corrupt customs officials.  

The “haoshiasos” were neither employees of BOC and/or the importers who were allegedly the “bagmen” of corrupt customs officials. 

And they too earned a lot of money from their share of the customs officials' fees or “tara”, as part of the “kalakaran” (way of doing business) at the ports to facilitate the release of even misdeclared or undervalued importations.  

The “haoshiaos”, however, vanished from the ports after then Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon swept them off from the port areas.

 

Toll Road at the Ports

The peso trail at the ports begins with the security guards manning the roads that lead to the piers. That short stretch from Roxas Boulevard to the piers could well be a “toll road”. 

Truckers allegedly have to pay a certain amount to some guards manning that short stretch to avoid delay and sometimes harassment. And it’s not the end of it, when truckers reach the pier's gate, they too have to  shell out a few pesos to some guards facilitate ease in entering the pier.

But it’s not only the truckers that pay the guards to use the PPA owned road, passenger jeeps  and for hire vans that also use the road to avoid traffic along Roxas Blvd. also shell out a few pesos to the guards. 

How much are these guards getting each day from “toll fees” to use that short stretch of road that is owned by the government?  And are these monies being shared by the guards with some government officials?

 

“Pera sa Lata” at the Ports

Whoever thought that “pera sa lata” only happens on TV game shows where its lucky winner can take home a grand prize of one million pesos?  There is also a “pera sa lata” at the ports where those involved in it are sure winners and they share an even bigger “loot” of several million pesos.  

The difference though between the “pera sa lata” TV game show and the “pera sa lata” at the ports is. For purposes of clarity, the “lata” (tin can) in the TV game show could be empty milk can, while the “lata” at the ports refer to the empty container vans.

At the height of the worst port congestion problem to hit the country in 2014, it was discovered that among the container vans that occupied the port yards were empty container vans or “empties”. 

And some of them had been lying at the yards of private port operators for months or even a year. Anyway, their owners, the shipping lines, had been paying the port operators for its storage fee.  

But under the law, the “empties” have to be re-exported by its owners within 150 days. Otherwise it will be subjected to duties and taxes which would could reach as much as P 30,000 per container.

There are allegations that many of these overstaying “empties” had been shipped out by its owners without paying its duties and penalties. 

How could this have happened when the BOC is supposed to have a record of all incoming containers and the status of stay of these containers? Are port operators regularly updating the BOC of the “empties” lying on their yards?  

At P 30,000.00 per container, the government should have received from the overstaying “empties” that were shipped without paying its duties and penalties, several millions of pesos in revenues. But all these were lost. 

And while those who facilitated the re-export of the overstaying “empties”, both from the government and private sides, could now be several millions richer.

Indeed, there is a long and winding peso trail at the ports. There are even allegations that some private port operators pay millions of pesos to port stakeholders to get their support and approval whenever they petition for an increase on their service fees.

This ”kalakaran” (way of life) at the ports, with its well entrenched set-up could perhaps, outlive all customs commissioners and PPA general managers. 

And even with the remarkable milestones and breakthroughs of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faledon in his unrelenting campaign against smuggling and corruption, the “kalakaran” at the ports would perhaps continue. 

After all, it could be an acceptable fact that it would be next to impossible to stop corruption at the ports, but it can be reduced to its lowest possible level.

 

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