THOUSANDS of professional Customs brokers are up in arms against a vigorous multinational lobby for passage of a measure in Congress that they claim will render them “extinct.”
In an interview with The Manila Times, officials of the Philippine Society of Filipino Customs Brokers Inc. (The Society), which is affiliated with the Chamber of Customs Brokers Inc. (CCBI), assailed specific provisions of House Bill 5525 or the Customs and Tariff Modernization Act (CMTA) that aim to remove them from business.
They argued that the bill, if passed, would have serious economic ramifications.
“We have about 8,000 members nationwide. If this law is passed, it will be detrimental not only to us or our families but to students and educational institutions that are offering Customs-related courses,” Roberta Riga, a licensed Customs broker and former president of CCBI, said.
Riga and other officers of The Society and CCBI said they are planning to hold protest actions to denounce “discreet” moves of lawmakers to have the bill passed, apparently because of strong pressure from multinational companies that will benefit from the measure.
The groups said a similar bill is also pending before the Senate ways and means committee heade by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara.
The measure was proposed in order to align the Philippines’ Customs administration with standards set by the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures or the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC), which was designed to standardize Customs policies and procedures worldwide.
“Unfortunately, despite the perceived goodness of the intention of the RKC, some of the groups behind this bill had taken advantage [of it]in order to transform the practice of the Customs brokers profession in the Philippines into a mere “disadvantaged option” detrimental to the interest not only of the professional Customs brokers but [also]of the Philippine government,” a position paper submitted by the group to Angara’s committee said.
“Some of the provisions of the bill are inconsistent with the Bureau of Customs initiatives of promoting effective, efficient and secured trade facilitation,” the position paper added.
The groups specifically cited Section 106 (Declarant) of the bill as “unfair, arbitrary and oppressive” because it gives the “declarant” the option whether to tap the services of Customs brokers.
Such option, it was said, “is an alienation of the Filipino Customs broker from the domain of his profession.”
This declarant provision, the group explained, will abolish mandatory use of the Customs broker profession, which was respected in the World Trade Organization-Bali Ministerial Declaration adopted on December 7, 2013 that asked legislators to “modernize the Philippine Customs and tariff administration without prejudice to the conduct of profession of Filipino Customs brokers.”
Customs brokers are professionals in the contemplation of existing Customs laws and the Professional Regulations Commission Modernization Act. They underwent a four-year baccalaureate program, the Bachelor of Science inCustoms Administration, and had passed rigorous licensure examinations.
“Customs brokers are professionals committed to a life of service to others. They protect life, property and public welfare. To serve others, they shall be prepared for heroic sacrifice and genuine selflessness in carrying out their professional duties even at the expense of personal gains,” the group noted in its position paper.
In a separate interview, Agaton Uvero, Customs deputy commissioner for assessment and operations coordinating group, who has been representing the bureau in previous congressional hearings, told The Manila Times that the BOC took a “neutral” stand during the time of resigned Customs Commissioner John Sevilla, because the latter showed little interest in the bill.
He admitted that there are big multinational companies and chambers of foreign businessmen that are strongly pushing for the passage of the measure. The bureau, however, has now taken a “pro-broker” stand because Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina is supportive of the cause of The Society and the CCBI.
“In fact, I can say that I support their profession but they need to modernize their curriculum to include international trade and supply chain specialization,” Uvero said.
“I was neutral then because that was the position taken by Commissioner Sevilla. But now the official position of the BOC is pro-brokers,” the deputy commissioner, himself a licensed Customs broker, said.