STA. ANA, Cagayan, Philippines—A shipment of 446 used luxury cars, sport utility vehicles, sedans and vans arrived at Port Irene here on Saturday, even as a controversy continues to rage over the legality of such importations in the face of a government ban upheld by the Supreme Court and despite a moratorium that the government has issued against their registration.
The MV Zambales, a Panamanian-registered cargo vessel, docked at the pier here at 8:30 a.m. amid rain and wind that delayed its arrival by 18 hours.
Officials of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza), which oversees the port’s operations, have dismissed allegations the arrival of the car shipment was in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that reinstated a government ban on the entry of used vehicles into the country.
At 10 a.m., the shipment was cleared for unloading by a boarding team representing the customs, quarantine and immigration bureaus. At 1 p.m., the ship’s ramp was lowered and stevedores began unloading the vehicles that originated from Yokohama, Japan, and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Leilani Alameda, deputy collector of the Bureau of Customs here who was on the team that inspected the cargo, said the processing of the shipment would be deferred because of standing orders from Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.
“This (inspection) is part of our mandated function to inspect cargo arriving in the country. But we are under strict instructions not to entertain any applications to have these processed, until further notice,” she said.
Based on a shipping manifest obtained by the Inquirer, the shipment contained about 30 Hummers, 53 Mercedes Benz sports cars, 21 BMWs of various models, seven Porsches consisting of 911, Boxster and Carrera models, a Ferrari F335 Berlinetta and a Lamborghini Murcielago.
The shipment also included high-end, off-road trucks and SUVs. The rest were passenger vans, sedans and miniwagons.
The vehicles were brought into the country through a permit issued to Fenix (Ceza) International, which took over from Forerunner Multi-Resources Inc. as the main importer of used cars here.
In a January 7 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of an injunction imposed against the operations of Forerunner in a case questioning the applicability of Executive Order No. 156 in its operations. The EO, issued by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2002, imposed a ban on imported vehicles, including at free ports, “to accelerate the sound development of the motor vehicle industry in the Philippines”.
Moments after the MV Zambales docked, about 10 people who were waiting at the pier boarded the ship with bags and luggage. Customs officials said they were the wives and family members of the 21 Filipino crewmembers who were issued boarding passes to join their loved ones during the vessel’s one-day stay here.
The port then became a virtual car showroom as the vehicles were rolled out of the 10,409-ton ship and inventoried by arrastre personnel before they were driven by the car dealers’ employees to the used-car compound in Casambalangan here, about two kilometers from Port Irene.
As the unloading progressed, car dealers, some of whom were Koreans, could be seen watching from a distance. A group of Pakistanis could be seen rolling out the Toyota miniwagons. A number of the units, including a yellow 2002 Lamborghini Murcielago, could not be started and had to be either towed or pushed to a hangar.
Ralph Patrick Iloy, the Ceza port operations chief, said the vehicles will be stored at the car lot pending the resolution of the legal question on whether or not they can be registered and sold.
The car dealers’ “only option will really be to export them if this ban becomes permanent,” he said.
The BOC and Land Transportation Office have separately issued directives to their field offices to discontinue the processing of the shipment that arrived here Saturday and an earlier shipment of 293 units that arrived on Feb. 11 aboard the MV Sungari.
Most of the vehicles that arrived here Saturday will undergo conversion from right-hand to left-hand drive to conform with Philippine highway standards.
The high-end cars, however, which are original left-hand drive, do not need converting, and are cleaned before being released to their new owners, according to Richard Lumayag, liaison officer of the New Apollo International Cagayan Trading Inc., the biggest dealer of used cars here.