SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp., a unit of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), has filed a case against the Bureau of Customs (BoC) for the latter’s alleged wrongful seizure of its bunker fuel cargo last December 16, 2016, which it said was done without due process and despite a complete set of import documents the company presented.
The company filed case No. 9551 before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) seeking to nullify the decision of forfeiture issued by the Customs Collector of the Port of Limay, Bataan.
“This bunker fuel is not like importing gasoline or diesel that is being smuggled. You cannot sell it. But it is being withheld. We filed last March 23 and the fuel is still there and the ship has been there since December. The bunker fuel is supposed to be used for San Miguel SL ships,” SMC President and COO Ramon S. Ang told reporters in an interview last week.
He said the bunker fuel, worth P750 million, has been withheld by Customs since December.
“We have always stood behind the BoC in its efforts to put a lid on fuel smuggling and improve its revenue generation but it has to be done properly. They cannot just seize products without following the due process of law at the expense of law-abiding taxpayers,” Ang added.
Armed with a warrant of seizure and detention (WSD), the BoC seized 44,000 MT of bunker fuel cargo consigned to SL Harbor and loaded on board M/T Alpine Magnolia and local barge M/T Malolos in Limay, Bataan.
SL Harbor explained that the alleged inconsistency arises from the BoC’s incorrect assumption of the volume being unloaded from M/T Magnolia into the terminal tanks and the volume being loaded from SL Harbor’s existing tax-paid inventory onto the M/T Malolos barge, adding that the BoC failed to take into account that SL Harbor’s storage tank had an existing fuel stock inventory of 6,000 MT at the time of loading.
“There was, therefore, no smuggling, no illegal discharge and no basis for the WSD,” Ang said. “Perhaps the BoC should focus its efforts on gasoline and diesel smuggling which is becoming more and more rampant.”
In its petition, SL Harbor said “Industrial fuel oil (or bunker fuel oil) is a low value item. It can only be used by power plants, sea-faring vessels and other manufacturing plants. The black market for it is so limited that it is a low-margin product.
“The risks and costs of smuggling bunker fuel far outweigh the taxes to be paid, which incidentally was already deposited in an accredited bank, ready to be debited in favor of the BoC.”
In 2015, records show that SMC paid the government a total of P125.7 billion in various taxes and in the last five years, the company has paid a total of P537.5 billion in various taxes to the government.