Truckers, customs brokers threaten to paralyze port operations

Evelyn Macairan - Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines - Truckers and customs brokers belonging to the Aduana Business Club (ABC) are threatening to paralyze port operations for one week from March 7 to press for the abolition of the Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS).

ABC president Mary Zapata said they are capable of “paralyzing the whole system, the whole delivery of (port) operations.”

But Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras, who heads the Port Congestion Task Force, warned the protesters of being charged with economic sabotage if they set up road blocks and force other truckers to join their cause.

He said the government would never stop protests but reminded the group its actions would have consequences. TABS requires advance or scheduled truck booking to ease the flow of cargo and ease congestion at the port area.

“The police said the first step is to arrest them for grave coercion. If they are arrested they would be investigated and subsequently charged with economic sabotage,” Almendras stressed.

Zapata said the planned mass action would be supported by the other customs brokers’ organizations in the country.

However, she clarified that the plan “is still being finalized” as “there are still consultations that are being done,” including with officials from the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), one of the private port operators in Metro Manila.

Almendras expressed belief only a small number of truckers and customs brokers would take part in the demonstration as many of them have voiced support for TABS.

One of the objections of the ABC to TABS is the imposition of penalties effective March 15.

But Almendras explained they have to impose penalties after discovering that one broker abused the TABS.

“There was one broker who reserved 40 slots in TABS in one day and 15 minutes later it was posted on Facebook that these slots were available and can be sold for P500 each. It’s a free system and can be abused if you do not impose payments,” he said.

He added that they met with various stakeholders several times before they decided to come out with the Implementing Rules and Regulations that carried the corresponding fees and penalties.

He believed that those opposing the TABS were really against the transparency of the system. Through TABS, the consignee would know the location of the shipment and not be subjected to additional made-up charges.

He denied that the TABS would bring about another port congestion. “How can it create port congestion when it will increase the capacity (at the port). Even if the volume grows in two years, there would be no port congestion,” Almendras said.

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