"What should be done about this problem?"
The problem of congestion in the ports of Manila is real, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has a pro-active answer to it.
Tugade exerted efforts to have all stakeholders in the shipping industry to commit themselves in a "Manifesto of Support for Government's Efforts to Effectuate Efficient Utilization of Philippine Ports" last March 15 to solve the problem of congestion.
Aside from Tugade, the manifesto was signed by Christian Gonzalez, SVP Global Corporate Head and CEO, Manila International Container Terminal; Sean James Perez, SVP Asian Terminals Inc., Patrick Ronas, president of Association of International Shipping Lines, Jay Daniel Santiago, General Manager of Philippine Ports Authority, and Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs.
The group said "fluctuation of market prices has triggered the unscrupulous practice of storing containers in Philippine ports until the time that withdrawal of goods will yield maximum profit."
In a meeting at the PPA on Feb. 11, it was discovered that 3,406 and 4,494 containers have remained at MICT and South Harbor respectively despite being cleared by the BOC for withdrawal.
The manifesto affirmed that the PPA had published a notice directing all cargo owners, shippers, consignees, logistics operators and customs brokers to withdraw cleared containers within 15 days of publication.
In case of failure to comply, the ATI and ICTSI shall remove overstaying containers and transfer these to designated Inland Container Depots.
The international shipping lines have the obligation to promptly evacuate containers from the Philippines within the period prescribed by the BOC either by their regular call vessels or by sweeper vessels.
However, both port operators and the PPA deny that there is congestion in Manila's ports.
On the other hand, customs brokers, truckers, and importers are already reeling from the additional cost of handling at the ports due to delays in the return of empty containers—which they blame on congestion at the ports.
According to Aduana Business Club president Mary Zapata, it now takes them up to three days to return their empty containers at the yard of private port operators like International Container Terminal Services Inc. and Asian Terminals, Inc. for instance, because of congestion in their yards. Zapata aired her problem to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Chief Supt. Vicente Danao, WPD director, because of the traffic problem along R-10 that the trucks are causing, inadvertently of course.
“Our trucks cannot pick up new loads because they are loaded with empty container vans which can't be returned immediately at the ports because of congestion. Meanwhile, we are charged for every day of delay in the return of the empties. This is the reason why we are calling on the government to regulate international shipping lines and their agents to lower the cost of importation and to avoid congestion,” Zapata explained.
This added costs are then passed on to consumers by the importers, thus prices of imported commodities are go higher and higher.
The Maritime Industry Authority says international shipping lines are not within their jurisdiction. While PPA has yet to give a categorical answer to the port users' clarification if the government can regulate international shipping lines or not.
Truckers are so exasperated that they wanted to meet with President Duterte on the problem. They already declared a week-long strike last November but their problem remained. There is still no government agency regulating the operations of international shipping lines.
Port congestion is also being attributed by some sectors to the Bureau of Customs' failure to monitor and collect taxes from container vans that have stayed in the country for over 90 days.
Under the law, container vans shall be re-exported out of the country within 90 days. Otherwise, shipping companies shall be required to pay the duties and taxes on them.
There could be hundreds or even thousands of empty containers parked at the yards of private operators for over 90 days.
In an open letter to President Rodrigo Duterte which recently came out of a major newspaper, the Port Users Confederation of the Philippines asked the government to regulate, at least, the operations of the local agents of international shipping lines, if only to rationalize the country's cost of importation.