BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—A ship loaded with about 400 imported used vehicles is arriving next week at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) despite the newly affirmed ban on such an importation by the Supreme Court.
“This ship is coming from Japan, and is loaded with Japanese-made used vehicles,” said Nilo Aldeguer, senior deputy administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza).
As of Friday, the cargo ship containing the latest batch of imported vehicles had left port and was at sea. It is expected to arrive at Port Irene, the CSEZFP main port, on Feb. 21 or 23, Aldeguer said.
“But we are told that (the ship) is also scheduled to dock at ports in [South] Korea and Hong Kong before it proceeds to Port Irene,” he added.
Second in two weeks
The shipment would be the second to arrive at Port Irene in a span of about two weeks.
On Feb. 11, a shipload of 200 used cars docked at Port Irene in Sta. Ana town in Cagayan, barely a month after the Supreme Court had issued a ruling that affirmed the validity of Executive Order No. 156.
The EO, which was issued in 2002 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, imposed nationwide ban on the entry of used vehicles into the country, except for trucks, buses and special purpose vehicles.
The two shipments, officials said, are covered by an import permit issued to Fenix (Ceza) International Inc., one of two licensees for used-car importation at the CSEZFP.
In an earlier interview, Aldeguer said Fenix’s import permit had been issued before the high court’s decision.
Why single out Enrile?
As far as importer Forerunner is concerned, however, the latest Supreme Court decision did not rule with finality on its petition.
“What the Supreme Court resolved in that [Jan. 7] decision is whether the court-issued injunction on the importation of used vehicles would be made permanent, pending the resolution of the main issue of the petition,” said Jaime Vicente, spokesperson for both Forerunner and Fenix, in a telephone interview.
In 2012, Fenix imported close to 5,000 used cars, vans, buses and trucks, with an estimated gross value of about P1.8 billion, Vicente said.
“We are more worried about the loss of about 1,000 jobs in the area that rely on this industry,” he said.
Vicente also decried what he described was an apparent campaign to discredit Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the main author of the Ceza charter, that has resulted in used-car dealers at the CSEZFP being singled out.
“There are a lot of actual smuggling activities going on in other parts of the country. There are many more criminal activities that the government should go after. Why only us?” he asked.
Vicente said Enrile’s son-in-law, James Kocher, does not own the companies that were granted licenses to import used cars at CSEZFP.
Kocher, he said, only owns the five-hectare car lot in Casambalangan village in Santa Ana town being leased by used car traders.
“[Kocher] only helps out the car traders [by giving them advice] in their business,” Vicente said.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the order of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Thursday to stop the release of more than 200 used cars and vans at Port Irene in Sta. Ana, Cagayan province, had a clearance from Malacañang.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) was just abiding by the decision of the Supreme Court, Valte said during a Palace briefing.
“Since there is already a Supreme Court decision on the matter upholding (Executive Order No. 156), then the Bureau of Customs will act accordingly,” Valte said.
Valte explained that a “legal situation” had come about at the CSEZFP following the arrival on Monday of 200 used cars and vans from Icheon, South Korea, amid what was then a “pending challenge to the EO in the Supreme Court.
But with the finality of the SC decision upholding the validity of the EO, the BOC could now “act accordingly,” she said.
Valte also welcomed Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s announcement that she would seek an inquiry in aid of legislation into what she called “contumacious” operations in the CSEZFP.
“On the matter of a Senate investigation, let’s leave that to the Senate and its members,” the Palace official said.
Open to information
On reported smuggling activities under the present dispensation, Valte said the government was “open” to any information that could warrant an investigation.
“The government does not have a monopoly (of) information, and we’re receptive to any information that will substantiate (smuggling allegations), or at least start an investigation on these allegations,” she said.
In Cagayan, Ceza administrator Jose Mari Ponce dismissed allegations that a previous batch and an incoming shipment of imported used vehicles was in defiance of the Supreme Court order.
He said accusations that Ceza was involved in car smuggling were “unfair” because the imported vehicles that arrived on Monday have never been brought out of the free port.
“How can there be defiance when it is the law that allows us to import [used cars] (as long as) these remain within [the confines of] the free port?,” Ponce asked.
“If there is defiance, that is not us but the other agencies that are supposed to process these vehicles so they can be brought out,” he told the Inquirer by telephone on Friday.
Ponce said the BOC and the Land Transportation Office were the agencies that process the registration of imported used vehicles before these are brought out and sold outside the free port.
He added that he believed Ceza was not barred by the Supreme Court decision and could continue to issue import permits for used cars to Fenix and Forerunner Multi-Resources Inc., as long as (the vehicles’) use is confined within the free port and they are not reexported to other countries.
“(But) if the Customs commissioner is now directing its field office [in Cagayan] to stop the processing of the latest batch of 200 vehicles, then we will comply,” Ponce said.