Business groups say no to TABS charges
Local business groups yesterday strongly opposed the imposition of high, “unnecessary” fees related to the Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS), stressing that Manila port operators should not try to make profit out of a scheme that will benefit them.
The Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), however, were quick to clarify that they were fully supportive of the implementation of the TABS, and were opposing only the imposition of booking fees and other charges.
In a phone interview yesterday, Philexport president Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr. said initial discussions about the TABs did not touch on additional charges that would be shouldered by the end-users, such as importers and exporters. While investments will be made to upgrade IT systems, the port operators should not try to make profit out of this scheme as they are the ones that will benefit from it through increased operational efficiencies.
“These fees are a disservice—they (Manila port operators) shouldn’t be charging those fees. There is clearly an advantage of using the TABS because it should mean lower trucking charges since you have an appointed time to go in and out of the ports. It will save on costs for the port operators because their operations will become more efficient,” Ortiz-Luis explained.
In a separate interview, PCCI president George T. Barcelon told the Inquirer the business group was not against TABS but only the booking fees being imposed by port operators.
“The TABS is very beneficial especially for the operators because they will be able to maximize the utilization of their ports… This system is actually better for them. But the booking fees may be a burden especially for the MSMEs (micro, small and medium sized enterprises),” Barcelon said.
A letter sent by Philexport and the PCCI to Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras late last month raised the issue of high fees involved in using TABS. Such charges were identified as transaction fees at the medium to high demand zones set at P300 and P1,000 respectively; late penalty of P1,625; no show penalty of P3,251, and advance deposit and maintaining balance of P6,500 per company to be able to transact using TABS.
“While we appreciate the objective of TABS to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic and goods in and around the ports, we strongly oppose the imposition of these TABS fees primarily because the TABS is an inherent part of the port operators’ mandate to enhance their services,” the letter stated.
The business groups also pointed out that there were realities and challenges that were beyond business control and which had to be considered in the context of fees and fines involved.
The letter noted that because global business was very slow and was projected to remain bearish in the next two years, exports had been declining. Any upward adjustments in the costs of exporting and importing will hurt businesses, especially if these involved the MSMEs that do not have healthy cash flows.
Philexport and PCCI further noted that despite the TABS, brokers and truckers using the system continued to complain of a 24-hour waiting time for the trucks to enter the ports. One possible reason for the long queue to the port, they said, was the rush to avoid the truck ban hours and penalties such that there was now an “overlapping of truck schedules.”
“There are already a number of duplicating fees being paid at the ports and we see these additional fees as another profit center at the expense of the MSMEs that are now in a survival mode to keep jobs and livelihood projects. For this reason, the no-show fee for equipment rental maybe redundant, considering that the equipment is already being paid from other port charges that have recently been raised despite opposition by stakeholders,” the letter stated.
Further, Philexport and PCCI members are mainly engaged in just-in time manufacturing wherein the processes have short lead times to save on cost. These short lead times cannot accommodate traffic jams and other aberrations which are still present despite the TABS. As a result, production and shipment of goods are consequently delayed, they added.
Add to all these is the fact that the Bureau of Customs has yet to complete its computerization system and thus, processing with the bureau continued to face some bottlenecks, they said.
In the meantime, International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) said its flagship operation, the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), was unaffected by the protest of the Aduana Business Club against the government’s plan to fully implement the TABS system.
“MICT is operating under normal conditions and there have been no effects in terminal operations from the protest. All roads going to and from MICT are clear and free flowing,” ICTSI said in a statement.
“We can also confirm that groups participating in the protest are actually transacting in MICT today with valid TABS bookings,” it added. With a report from Miguel Camus