CUSTOMS Commissioner Alberto Lina on Friday defied the order of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and proceeded with the “hasty passage” of the implementing rules and regulations of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
Asian Terminals Inc., one of two international freight handlers that criticized the move, described Lina’s actions as “oppressive” and violative of the constitutional rights of stakeholders, and warned that the country would pay the price if the IRR of the new law is not scrutinized carefully.
On Thursday, Purisima had ordered all outgoing officials under the Finance department “to clear all policy actions with the transition team of incoming Finance secretary Carlos Dominguez.”
But Lina proceeded with a hearing on the IRR at the bureau Friday without informing the Duterte team.
The hearing was initially scheduled for two days, on June 9 and 10, but the bureau changed that to just one full-day hearing.
In his Thursday directive, Purisima said: “Operationalizing professionalism means that our job until the end of June is to make life as easy as possible for the incoming team to hit the ground running on day one.
“We hope to give the incoming economic team all the information and resources they need to have an even more successful six years than we had. Their success is our success.”
ATI and the International Container Terminal Services Inc. said they fully supported the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, but protested the manner by which Lina haphazardly wanted to finish the IRR on the new law—which has 1,805 sections—in just a single public hearing.
The two international freight handling companies at the Port of Manila sent separate letters of protest, questioning the abbreviated public hearings and the short period allowed to stakeholders to come up with position papers on the IRR.
ATI executive vice president Andrew Hoad said the ATI objected to the conduct of the public hearing for being “premature, irregular, hasty and violative of ATI’s constitutional right.”
He said the promulgation of the IRR and any proceeding leading to it including the hearing should only take place after the effectivity of the CMTA, “i.e., not earlier than June 14, 2016.”
ICTSI also wrote the Customs bureau Friday seeking a series of public hearings on the provisions of the CMTA, which it noted was a law composed of 1,805 sections.
“We strongly recommend that the next public hearing be conducted at least three weeks from today and that the stakeholders, including our company, be granted the same period of time to submit our comments on the draft IRR,” ICTSI Regional Legal Manager for Asia Pacific Lirene Mora-Suarez said in the letter.
Hoad noted that “when the bill was approved in both houses [of Congress] there were two versions, one for each house. It was only after the CMTA was signed by the President and after its publication in the Official Gazette about [June 6 to 7, 2016] when the public had access to the consolidated version that is the CMTA now.”
The President signed the CMTA into law on May 30.
Without waiting for the new law to be published in the Official Gazette, Lina two days later issued a memo allowing Manila North Harbour Port Inc. to engage in international trade, violating the rules against impairment of contracts, a Bureau of Customs official said.
The BoC official, who requested anonymity, said the MNHPI had an existing contract with the Philippine Ports Authority granting it an exclusive concession to operate only in “domestic trade.”
The MNHPI, owned by San Miguel president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang after he bought the firm from 1Pacman Rep.-elect Mikee Romero, was “conspicuously absent” and did not send a representative to the hearing.
“At the very least, therefore, ATI and other stakeholders are entitled to that 15-day notice period before the law becomes finally effective, which is its full opportunity to be informed, to review the new law as signed and assess its impact on its business and activities,” Hoad added.
Hoad said that the CMTA should take effect only on June 14 and “no earlier than that, assuming it was published upon approval of the President on May 30, 2016.”
“It is only upon the effectivity of a law that legal rights and obligations become available to those entitled by the language of the statute,” he said.
“With all due respect to the bureau, should our request be denied, please consider this letter as our formal protest in the haphazard and unreasonable speed by which this present Bureau of Custom’s administration is trying to pass and issue the CMTA’s IRR, notwithstanding the change in administration in 20 days,” ICTSI’s Mora-Suarez said.
Stakeholders noted that the notice for public hearings on June 9 (Thursday) and 10 (Friday) were sent to the relevant sectors only on June 6 (Monday) after 5 p.m. with an attached copy of the CMTA but not the draft IRR.
Port stakeholders protested the haste with which the bureau sought the approval of the draft IRR.
The bureau required stakeholders to submit their position papers on June 8 and gave them less than 48 hours to review the CMTA.
The draft IRR was only distributed on Thursday, June 9, and consisted of more than 150 pages, which was the topic of yesterday’s hearing that started at 8 a.m.
Stakeholders added that the BoC informed participants of the hearing—including the venue and time--after the IRR was distributed.
With the public hearing announced only two days before, stakeholders also complained that it was difficult to encourage other interested parties to attend.
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