Businessmen are furious over the shameless greed of customs brokers who have connived with unscrupulous officials of the Bureau of Customs to delay the release of their shipments so they could squeeze more bribes during the pandemic lockdown.
Several Filipino and Chinese importers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that customs brokers have made themselves scarce during the lockdown apparently to extend the waiting time for the release of goods from normally a week to as much as 15 to 30 days.
With no customs brokers to facilitate their shipments, importers are forced to pay extra (depending on their level of desperation) in order to hasten the release of their goods.
BOC officials and customs brokers told the complaining importers that they were just protecting the safety of their staff by observing the quarantine rules. But a Politiko source this was nothing but a corruption scheme to gouge more fees from businessmen desperate to have their goods pulled out of the port because BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero assured on March 17 (Day One of the ECQ) that normal processing hours in all ports would be observed while ensuring the safety of its personnel amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak,
“We still have normal Customs processing hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), while the release of containers remains on a 24/7 schedule,” said BOC spokesperson Vincent Philip Maronilla in a statement.
The source said customs brokers have deliberately told their staff not to report for work ostensibly to save on hazard pay but this was clearly part of their gameplan to delay the shipments.
The source warned the “delay for more profit” scheme could adversely impact the food and medical supply situation in the country.
“D’yan dapat gamitin ng Pangulo ang kanyang emergency powers,” said the source.
The alleged corruption scheme was enabled by the Professional Customs Brokers Association of the Philippines (PCBAP) demand to suspend the 7-day period to lodge goods declaration during the enhanced community quarantine from March 17 to April 13.
The BOC approved the customs brokers appeal and extended the period to by 15 to 30 days and would cover shipments that arrived starting March 10. This means brokers don’t have to rush the release of any goods during the lockdown.
The alleged corruption scheme could have been worse if the government had listened to the PCBAP’s appeal for the government to shut down the entire Manila port, the country’s main trading gateway, during the lockdown citing the safety of the group’s staff and port workers.