Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, July 28, 2008

Subic car importers not major players in Cagayan port

Only less than 15 of 50 registered importers of used vehicles at the Subic Bay Freeport have extended their operations to the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZF) since last year, each one able to bring in only a maximum of 30 units per shipment, a trader said.

At this rate, it is not true that Subic-based car importers have become the major players at the CSEZF or they have turned the CSEZF as the entry point of imported used vehicles, according to Maribelle Samson, owner and general manager of the Westwood Corp.

Westwood ventured into direct car importation through the CSEZF shortly after the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) enforced the final ruling of the Supreme Court on Executive Order 156. The SBMA has impounded 2,970 cars there since November last year.

Court ruling

The Oct. 30, 2007 resolution of the high court denied the motion of the Motor Vehicles Importers Association of the Subic Bay Freeport to sell used cars outside the free port.

The Feb. 26, 2006 decision, penned by Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, ruled that “motor vehicles that come into the Philippine territory via the secured fenced-in former Subic Naval Base area may be stored, used or traded therein or exported out of the Philippine territory, but they cannot be imported into the Philippine territory outside of the secured fenced-in former Subic Naval Base area.”

Samson’s EMS Corp. has continued importing through Subic free port trucks and heavy equipment, which are not covered by the ban. EMS Corp. also rents out its yard to car importers at Subic.

The 50 car importers at Subic have remained there to recover the 2,970 vehicles valued at a total of P1 billion, she said.

“We’re seeking an amnesty, if not we will re-export [these vehicles],” she said.

Westwood established business at the CSEZF because it had to dispose of its stocks in Japan when the court’s final ruling came. “We needed to find ways to survive,” she said.


Westwood has imported a total of 100 SUVs (sport utility vehicle) and passenger vans at the CSEZF, Samson said.

“It’s ok. The procedures are easier [at the CSEZF] but brokerage rules are stricter and handled by the [Cagayan Economic Zone Authority],” she said.

On the other hand, the procedures at the SBMA took longer, requiring importers to get import permits, pay duties and taxes at the Bureau of Customs, go to the Land Transportation Office for registration and return to the SBMA to obtain gate passes to bring the cars out.

Smugglers will find it difficult to be operating at the CSEZF, she said.

“You can’t bring out the cars until they have license plates. There are many checkpoints from Cagayan to Bataan. The [LTO] is very strict” she said.

Westwood resells used cars in Dinalupihan, Bataan, on a package system. By this, she means that the importer has done everything for the buyer from tax payments to car registration.

The import volume of Subic-based importers is minimal because the CSEZF has no facilities to handle shipments of container vans unlike at the Subic free port.

Subic-based importers brought in 70 units monthly to the free port. At the CSEZF, they can handle only 30 units per shipment, she said.

“Only Ro-Ro (roll on, roll off) ships are available. What we importers do is rent out a ship and bring in the cars in one shipment. Some of us import twice a month,” Samson said.

In good faith

Duties and taxes are paid within 30 to 60 days.

“At the CSEZF, there are no freelance brokers and the CEZA has a counterpart that processes the documents,” Samson said.

She said groups suspecting that there was over-importation or smuggling at the CSEZF should look at documents.

“We cannot be [involved in] smuggling because our clients will lose faith in us. We will go down the drain. Our clients are middle-income earners who cannot afford to buy brand new cars. We do things in good faith in Subic and at Port Irene,” she said.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the SBMA has not endorsed any locator to the CSEZF. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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