‘Port corruption deeply rooted’
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The culture of corruption at Manila’s ports is deeply rooted and has been going on for decades, affecting almost everyone from security guards and enforcers to truckers and sub-contractors of shipping lines, the president of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc (ICTSI) said yesterday.

Speaking before the Senate committee on trade and commerce, ICTSI president Christian Gonzalez admitted that the ports have been plagued with corruption since the 1980s when the peso-dollar rate was still P25:$1.

Each transaction then would fetch as much P1,000, and money would change hands at the port canteen.

He said manual transactions at the ports may have contributed to corruption.

“This is a whole culture,” Gonzales said, adding that bribery sometimes even took place in ICTSI offices and premises. He said they have been trying to minimize “human to human” transactions to address the issue.

“And everybody is guilty here, right? If someone takes a truck into ICTSI, I guarantee you a security guard is collecting money. I guarantee that,” said Gonzalez.

Even if the government had begun digitalization of port processes, Gonzales admitted bribery and mulcting practices have remained.

“The real problem now is the manipulation of information to create an environment where you feel you have to give money for transactions to move, when in fact, for all practical purposes, it is not true,” Gonzalez said.

The ICTSI president’s admission was a corroboration of claims by business groups and truck operators of rampant bribery and mulcting operations in the country’s various ports.

Yesterday’s hearing by the Senate committee on trade and commerce chaired by Sen. Bam Aquino was meant to thresh out ways to address serious congestion at the Port of Manila.

Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who heads the Cabinet cluster on port congestion, said the administration is working round-the-clock to address the problem.

“We are trying to solve that… I think if you’re looking at something drastic, it will come… the reason for corruption is the lack of transparency,” Almendras said after the hearing.

When asked to pinpoint who could be involved in bribery practices, Gonzalez said the “private sector relating to moving containers.”

“Where we can automate, we automate, right? But we cannot automate the security guard, the enforcer and the parola because they are the guys with the gun,” Gonzalez added.

Melissa Chua of the Federation of Filipino Chambers of Commerce and Industry told the Senate committee that “under the table” deals have been happening at the ports for a long time.

“Before it started only with the truckers... Pakikisama, pang merienda maybe for P100,” said Chua, referring to tips for snack food and for the sake of camaraderie.

“But now people are taking advantage of it because they know the frustration of how hard it is to return the empties, so even though you have the pre-alert advice and if you don’t have the under-the-table, they won’t accept your empties. So you are forced to give it to them,” Chua said.

Sean Perez, vice president for commercial and marketing of the Asian Terminal Inc., said they are in agreement with stakeholders’ efforts to “eliminate the issue of corruption,” and to establish a mechanism “where there are no more interaction with people” in port operations.

Alberto Suansing, director of the Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines, said illegal transactions occur at every turn, from the time a truck is loaded with container until it goes out of port and along roads and streets.

Officials of the Filipino, European and American chambers of commerce present during the hearing batted for the lifting of the ban on trucks.

They said efforts should be made to improve the logistics chain instead of banning trucks as imposed by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Michael Raeuber, president of the European Chamber of Commerce, said the port congestion issue has been building up through the years, and that the truck ban imposed in Manila should not be blamed for the problem.

“The root cause here is the loss of productivity of trucking,” Raeuber said, noting that the 25 trips made by a truck every month has been reduced to 10 or 11 a month as a result of the ban.

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