Trade group Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport) had sought a reset of tariff cases with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) through an amnesty program since these pending cases are now sources of graft.
The head of the trade group said the BOC should be authorized to extend customs amnesty, disclosing that the backlog of cases that have piled up with the BOC has become a “goldmine for graft.”
Speaking at a recent panel discussion on ways to promote trade facilitation in the Philippines, Philexport president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said the mounds of cases stored for decades with the BOC should now be dealt with decisively, with customs amnesty as a possible solution.
“Unlike the Bureau of Internal Revenue [BIR], the Bureau of Customs has no prescription and I the Customs Commissioner has no power to give amnesty,” he said. This situation, he added, has led to the piling up of cases for litigation sitting in the bodegas of records of the BOC.
“Once and for all we should clear up” all of these cases, he said, not just to remove the backlog and acquire additional government revenue, but also to close another venue for corruption and help generate convert this cases to revenues for the government, he said.
Ortiz-Luis said some people with old cases get calls after their names crop up on the computer and are told that their cases could be “pushed back” for a fee, and “this is mostly on the bonded warehouse operation.”
“There are hordes of records there that cannot be litigated anymore, but the names will appear there, so it becomes a route for graft, a goldmine for graft for some people,” Ortiz-Luis said.
He added that if customs amnesty is granted, “it can be a source of income and a lot of graft could be taken away.”
Moreover, it will give encouragement to those who shied away with dealing with customs because they are threatened by all these things that cannot be litigated anyway.”
Ortiz-Luis likewise called for support for a bill in Congress seeking the grant of customs amnesty.
House Bill 09, or “The Customs Amnesty Act of 2013,” was filed in the Lower House by Congressman Reynaldo Umali in 2013 during the 16th Congress. It calls for the granting of amnesty to importers and sureties with unsettled obligations with the BOC as a means to raise additional revenues for the government.
A similar draft bill was recently endorsed by Philexport to Congress for possible adoption by legislators.
Under the bill, amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution will be granted to importers and sureties that meet certain requirements and voluntarily disclose previously unliquidated or matured bonds that were posted to secure payment of customs duties and other charges or fees so that BOC may release their importations conditionally.
“The uncollected amount from the matured bond is huge enough for the Bureau to be able to augment its national revenue collection,” said the explanatory note to the bill. “As of O1 January 2009 the total overdue amount covered by surety bonds is over P7.9 billion.”
The panel discussion was part of the EU-PH Advocacy Forum on Enhancing Customs and Trade Facilitation held late last month and attended by representatives from BOC, Department of Finance, the EU delegation, the business and export community, and former customs commissioner Rep. Ruffy Biazon.
The BOC, meanwhile, issued guidelines for the temporary lifting of suspension, cancellation, and revocation of the customs accreditation privileges of importers with seized and/or forfeited shipments.
Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon said the memorandum issued on Friday is part of the bureau commitment to facilitate trade in a more efficient manner.
The BOC also wanted to ensure that despite the continuing suspension or revocation of erring importers’ accreditation, port congestion would be avoided.
”The temporary lifting of the suspension, cancellation or revocation, if approved, shall last 10 working days from the reactivation of the importer’s account,” the memorandum further stated.
Requests will be processed in one to two working days from the receipt of the importer’s letter. The AMO will send an e-mail to the importer concerned once the latter’s account has been reactivated.
Request for the temporary lifting of the suspension, cancellation or revocation may only be submitted once.
Importers may file their requests before the Office of the Commissioner.
Concerned importers may now submit a letter asking for the temporary lifting of such suspension, cancellation or revocation in order to immediately accommodate the processing of shipments arrived prior to or on the date of suspension, cancellation, and revocation of their accreditation privileges.
The letter-request must contain the following information:
• Consignee’s name, address and contact number;
• Bill of Lading number/s (only those provided will be processed);
• List and the description of the pending shipments;
• Port of Destination of the subject shipments; and
• A statement that a motion or letter for reconsideration to permanently lift such suspension, cancellation or revocation has been filed with the AMO.
Concerned importers whose shipments are still in transit at the time of the suspension, cancellation or revocation are advised to submit their letter requests after the said shipment/s have arrived at the port of destination.
On the other hand, subsequent requests from the same importer shall no longer be entertained by the Office of the Commissioner.