By Bebot Sison Jr.
Authorities seized P4 million worth of imported vehicles yesterday as part of the government’s campaign to stop the smuggling of highly taxable goods.
Retired general Jose Calimlim, who heads the anti-smuggling task force at Subic, said some vehicle importers here have been abusing their importation privileges.
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) jointly inspected a 40-foot container van consigned to Bayshore General Merchandise, which declared the contents as a used passenger van and two used utility vehicles.
However, the investigators found that the van’s actual contents were a Mitsubishi Delica passenger van, a 1991 Mercedes-Benz sports coupe, and a Toyota Prado. The shipment originated from Yokohama, Japan.
Calimlim, concurrently the SBMA’s senior deputy administrator for operations, said the manifest declared the value of the Mercedes-Benz and the Toyota Prado at $550 or roughly P31,000 each, while the Delica’s value was declared at $450 or P26,000. The whole shipment’s declared value amounted to a mere $1,550 or P88,000.
He said that through importers engaged in technical smuggling, "the government is losing millions of pesos of much-needed revenues... and the SBMA is determined to stop these illegal activities."
Citing President Arroyo’s earlier directives to curb smuggling, Calimlim said he has ordered the seaport and adjacent warehousing areas — such as the naval supply depot and the ship repair facility — under tight security in anticipation of more attempts to smuggle luxury cars into the country.
He told The STAR that they received information that aside from Benzes, BMWs and Ferraris will be "transshipped from Europe via Hong Kong."
Subic district collector Marietta Zamoranus said the BOC is now readying smuggling charges against Bayshore president Repoldo Nadar.
Zamoranus, a lawyer, said the confiscated luxury vehicles have been listed in a warrant of seizure and detention and will be auctioned off in favor of the government after the BOC conducts hearings.
Calimlim, a former chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, was among three officials appointed to carry out Mrs. Arroyo’s plan to spur economic growth in Central Luzon.
The Subic task force, created through Executive Order 384 issued by Malacañang last Nov. 8, was tasked to eliminate the smuggling, not just of imported vehicles, but also liquor, petroleum, agricultural products and other commodities.
"We have sufficient information on the smuggling syndicate and their links with corrupt Customs personnel and other government officials. The task force is moving closely into this operational phase to pin down its protectors and cohorts," Calimlim said.
In early September, Mrs. Arroyo promised to revive the National Anti-Smuggling Task Force (NASTF) if newly appointed Customs Commissioner George Jereos will not be able to effectively clamp down on economic saboteurs in the next two months.
The President made this commitment before the program held last night at the Manila Hotel for the 50th anniversary of the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce Inc. (FCCCI).
"Let’s zero in once again on smuggling. I am giving the new Customs commissioner two months to do his thing against smuggling," she told her audience.
"If after two months, you, the business community, are not satisfied, then we will revive the inter-agency anti-smuggling task force," Mrs. Arroyo promised.
The task force was previously headed by now Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes. Mrs. Arroyo had directed Reyes earlier this year to abolish the NASTF after he assumed office so he could concentrate on his new job as anti-crime czar.
The President’s promise drew long and loud applause from her audience, who included taipans such as FCCCI chairman emeritus Lucio Tan, FCCCI president Robin Sy, SM mall chain owner Henry Sy, and also government officials led by Senate President Franklin Drilon.
She called upon FCCCI members to serve as "role models to the people" by paying the right amount of taxes, helping fight corruption, reporting fixers and grafters in government, and identifying drug lords, kidnappers and smugglers "that threaten the nation’s safety and well-being."