DOTr chief: Ports scheme will remain deferred

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THE Transportation chief on Wednesday assured senators the controversial system being pushed by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) that stakeholders say will further bloat already soaring logistics costs will remain deferred until all issues are resolved.

Testifying online at a Senate Public Services Committee hearing on the PPA’s Trusted Operator Program-Container Registry and Monitoring System (TOP-CRMS), Secretary Jaime B. Bautista answered “Opo, Mam [Yes, mam],” in reply to committee chair Sen. Grace Poe, who asked him whether or not they can “assure stakeholders this program won’t just be implemented just like that?”

“Right now, the decision of the Board is to defer it while we’re attending to the [issues raised by the] opposition,” Bautista told Senators Poe and Risa Hontiveros, who had authored Resolution 484 seeking the inquiry on “increased logistics costs in the Philippines.”

Bautista informed senators the PPA Board decided in January 2023 to freeze implementation of the controversial program, after the Board convened an interagency meeting, where, it turned out, the benefits it will bring “were not clear.”

Moreover, Bautista recalled that the Bureau of Customs thinks “it’s not important,” while the DTI and NEDA “are not in full support.”

The program in late 2022 drew a massive outcry from stakeholders truckers and logistics players and other port users—and even words of caution from relevant government agencies like the NEDA and the DTI.

Big business groups like the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Philippine Exporters Federation (Philexport) late backed up the objectors to the program.

Invited by Poe to share his views at Wednesday’s hearing, PCCI’s George Barcelon stressed that the 26 percent logistics cost in the Philippines is one of the highest in the world, and highest in the region, where average cost is 12-13 percent of total costs of handling goods.

Barcelon said that, as he had joined the private business delegation on several of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s overseas trips, potential foreign investors they are trying to lure to the Philippines have raised three key issues that dampen their choice to locate here: power cost and supply, logistics cost, and issues on ease of doing business (EODB).

At the start of the hearing, Poe echoed the concern of port users and other shipping industry stakeholders on the impending effects of increased port fees and charges to be imposed by the PPA.  While recognizing the government body’s efforts in addressing port congestion and modernizing its monitoring systems, Poe raised port users’ complaints that the PPA’s administrative orders would supposedly drive up fees and charges, and in effect, domestic logistics costs.

“High shipping rates also worsen inflation,” Poe pointed out as she presided over the Senate panel’s inquiry. “In creating reforms to our maritime trade, it’s time to regulate excessive charges, all while supporting the growth of our shipping industry,” she said in mixed English and Filipino.

For her part, Sen. Risa Hontiveros expressed concern over the implementation of several PPA administrative orders. She pointed out that any additional fees imposed on logistics companies will just be passed on to the consumers as it would lead to higher prices of goods and commodities. “What are these [administrative orders] for when it would just bring additional burden instead of helping the Filipino people recover? I believe, together with other stakeholders that this is not real progress,” Hontiveros said in Filipino.

Meanwhile, even as the controversial program stays frozen, however, Bautista assured the lawmakers and stakeholders that the DOTr and PPA will continue to study port congestion and how to ease this problem.

Also the same meeting, Dr. Henry Basilio of the Export Development Council informed senators there is a bill approved by the House of Representatives in the 18th Congress, but without a counterpart bill in the Senate, empowering MARINA to regulate the local charges imposed by shipping companies. Some of these local charges have been blamed for being whimsical, unnecessary and further bloating the logistics costs.

Poe assured that senators will seriously consider introducing a counterpart bill for the measure, which was re-filed in the House in this 19th Congress.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes