Importers seek release of ‘hot’ cars in Port Irene
Used-car importers in Cagayan Valley have asked Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon to allow the release of more than 200 second-hand cars and vans that arrived in Port Irene, Cagayan, on Monday, allegedly in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling upholding a 2001 executive order banning the importation of used vehicles into the country.
Jaime Vicente, president of the Automotive Rebuilders’ Industry of Cagayan Valley, cited an executive order issued by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005 that detailed the duties for the importation of second-hand motor vehicles and apparently allowed such imports.
Biazon had stopped the release of 200 second-hand cars and vans and of the 400 more that are being shipped to Port Irene until the bureau heard from the Supreme Court.
Biazon said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) was getting a certificate of finality from the Supreme Court on its decision affirming the validity of Executive Order No. 156, issued by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which banned the importation of used vehicles, except for trucks, buses and special purpose vehicles.
“We just want to make sure. We want to have legal cover for our actions so we’ve suspended the processing of their papers,” Biazon said in an interview.
On Thursday Biazon ordered all customs officials assigned at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) not to process any vehicle importation pending clarification on the finality of the Supreme Court decision affirming the constitutionality of EO 156,
“That order applies. So, yes the processing [of the shipment of 400 second-hand cars] will also be suspended,” he said.
Biazon said he had yet to see the letter from the importers in Cagayan Valley, but added that he understood their predicament.
“They might be concerned about the 30-day limit for the filing of their entries. Because if they fail to do that, the vehicles would be considered abandoned,” he said.
Biazon said he believed the matter could be resolved before the deadline.
“It depends on when the [200 cars arrived but] I think that there is still time. I’ve already given a verbal order for my men to get the certification from the Supreme Court,” he said.
In his letter to Biazon, Vicente said the Supreme Court upheld with finality the constitutionality of Arroyo’s EO 418 except its provision levying a P500,000 additional duty on each used car import over and above the regular tariffs under the customs code.
He added that governmental agencies concerned with the used-car importation, including the BOC, have been issued writs of execution to implement EO 418, as established in Executive Secretary versus Fenix (Ceza) International Inc.
The Supreme Court ruling in Fenix was promulgated on Nov. 15, 2010, Vicente said.
Vicente said the Supreme Court’s decision in the Fenix case was final and executor and a writ of execution was issued to the Aparri regional trial court to execute the decision.
“Similar writs of execution directing the Bureau of Customs and the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza), to obey the Fenix decision were issued,” Vicente said.
“It was in compliance with such writs of execution that the BOC, Ceza and [Land Transportation Office], allowed the importation by Fenix, which is valid and legal. We trust that you find the foregoing in order,” he added.
Vicente wrote Biazon after the customs chief ordered customs personnel in Port Irene to stop the release of more than 200 used cars and vans that arrived on Monday at the free port in Sta. Ana, Cagayan.
Biazon gave the order in connection with a ruling the Supreme Court rendered on Jan. 7. The January ruling lifted the injunction on the implementation of EO 156 that Arroyo issued on Dec. 12, 2002, to ban the importation of second-hand motor vehicles.
“Fenix made the importation of reported shipment by virtue of Executive Order 418 issued on April 4, 2005, which permits the importation of used motor vehicles and not Executive Order 156 (issued in 2002), which earlier banned the importation of used motor vehicles,” Vicente said in his letter.
Vicente said that Forerunner Multi Resources Inc., the company involved in the case against the ban on used car importation, had, “in any case,” already stopped its importation of second-hand motor vehicles as early as January 2012 “in compliance with the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court in a resolution dated Jan. 16, 2012.”
“I wish to correct the impression of some sectors in the media that our members are in defiance of the Supreme Court in as far as in the importation of used motor vehicles is concerned,” Vicente said.
Vicente added that the Jan. 7 decision of the Supreme Court in Forerunner’s case against
EO 156 wasn’t final and executory.
“In fact, Forerunner already filed its motion for reconsideration on the said decision,” Vicente said.
Vicente claimed in his letter that the Jan. 7 decision that appears to have upheld the ban on the importation of second-hand cars merely decided on the issue of preliminary injunction issued by the Court of Appeals on the implementation of EO 156.
“The Supreme Court decision was merely a decision on the issue of preliminary injunction and not on the main case, which is still pending before the regional trial court of Aparri, Cagayan,” Vicente said.
“In other words, the decision dealt only with Forerunner’s legal right to seek preliminary injunctive relief. Thus, the main issue on Forerunner’s legal right to import used motor vehicles is yet to be finally resolved by the courts,” he added.
Ceza officials said any investigation into the activities of CSEZFP was welcome.
Nothing to hide
They said the zone’s doors were open to any investigative teams to check the importation of used cars there.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Jose Mari Ponce, Ceza administrator, days after the Inquirer reported defiance of the Supreme Court order by used-car importers at the free port.
“I have been quiet for a few days because I was confident that we have not done anything wrong. But I have to set the record straight and categorically state that no smuggling [of used cars] is happening at CSEZFP,” Ponce told the INQUIRER on Saturday.
But when asked how many more used-car shipments are arriving at the free port, Ponce was irked and replied: “Why are you sensationalizing the issue? We are not doing anything wrong.”
He said zone officials and employees would never allow smuggling at the free port, as this was a constant reminder from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, widely regarded as the prime mover in the creation of the special economic zone.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone on Saturday said Biazon’s order had nothing to do with politics and “everything to do with law enforcement.”
Evardone, a member of the Liberal Party and mouthpiece of Team PNoy in May’s senatorial election, denied that Biazon’s order was intended to discredit Enrile, one of the leaders of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance.
“There should be no sacred cows, no special treatment in law enforcement,” Evardone said in a statement.
“Is anyone complaining that we are enforcing the law? Is anyone suggesting that fighting smuggling is wrong?” Evardone said. With a report from Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon