Sunday, September 16, 2007

Senate urged to probe Cebu smuggling

By Jolene Bulambot - Inquirer Visayas Bureau

CEBU CITY -- AN OFFICIAL OF A GROUP OF customs brokers here on Saturday asked the Senate to investigate the rampant smuggling of cars through the Cebu port.

Ricky Gantuangco, executive vice president of the Visayas chapter of the Professional Customs Brokers Association of the Philippines (PCBAP), said his group knew the identities of brokers and importers who were conniving with customs officials in smuggling used luxury cars, but was helpless.

He said some officials of the PCBAP feared harassment from customs officials if they involved themselves in the investigation.

Some PCBAP members import surplus vehicles.

“To even the playing field, especially since only a few privilege people are enjoying it, we hope a Senate or a congressional inquiry would (also) be conducted,” he said.

Gantuangco said car smuggling in Cebu has been hurting the legitimate business of brokers and importers who are members of the PCBAP.

He said investigators should zero in on brokers whose earnings are too big to be explained by their legitimate importation.

Some customs officials demand P30,000 in bribe from brokers and importers for every container van loaded with smuggled vehicles.

Bribes, known in customs jargon as tara or suborno, have become part of standard operating procedures in the port of Cebu, he said.

“You can ask those brokers who are into that activity, they can tell you exactly how much they are giving to the customs officials,” said Gantuangco. “It’s already alarming.”

The Cebu Auto Dealers Association (Cada) earlier said Cebu has become a prime destination for smuggled luxury car, prompting the Visayas Ombudsman to start an investigation.

Records from the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers in the Philippines (Campi) said legitimate car dealers sold 1,686 cars and 3,274 other vehicles but the Land Transportation Office registered 3,584 cars and 21,637 other vehicles.

Jose Manuel Cuenco, Cada president, said his group supports Gantuangco’s call for a Senate investigation.

“(Car) smuggling is so prevalent in Cebu that people think that it is normal already… This must be stopped,” he said.

Cada had written Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to put a stop to the smuggling. There was no response yet.

The customs bureau started an investigation, but its officials are already saying that smuggling was impossible because the port of Cebu has a sophisticated X-ray machine that could detect contraband in closed container vans.

These officials said the smuggled cars could have entered through other ports and were brought to Cebu as domestic cargo.

The Department of Transportation and Communications also started an investigation.

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