Imee: Port Dispute Delaying Release Of Medicine, Food

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Metro Manila’s health and food security could be put at risk if an ongoing dispute at the Port of Manila remains unresolved while the government tries to cope with the spread of COVID-19, Senator Imee Marcos said.

Imported medicine, food, and other items remain stranded in more than 800 20-foot refrigerated container vans called reefers at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).

The reefers are among some 40,000 unreleased container vans that have congested the MICT to almost full capacity, escalating a dispute between government agencies, port operators, and shipping lines on one side, and importers, brokers, forwarders, and truckers on the other.

Importers and their agents have been accused of parking their cargo at the MICT for extended periods while waiting for greater public demand to push up the prices of their imported goods, Marcos said.

However, brokers said they have been losing P20,000 per day for each container van that remains at port because the ongoing lockdown in Luzon has slowed down the processing of import documents and payments.

A glitch in the computer system of the Bureau of Customs has also delayed the processing of import duties and taxes already paid by brokers through their banks.

To calm the dispute, Marcos urged the Philippine Ports Authority to desist from issuing a joint memorandum circular that will impose storage restrictions and additional fines for overstaying cargo.

“Bayanihan muna tayo, pwede ba? Dahil taumbayan ang napaparusahan sa ganyang bangayan,” Marcos said.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said that a temporary suspension of import-related fees during the lockdown can keep the prices of imported medicine and food from going up, since it would remove costs passed on to buyers and sellers.

Waiving the payment of fees for storage and demurrage – a penalty for cargo not unloaded within the time agreed – would also allow brokers to move out cargo from the MICT more quickly, Marcos added.