THE Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) is scrambling to fix a transaction backlog in the electronic-to-mobile system (e2m) that led to a server overload. The situation has in turn fouled up cargo delivery schedules and online payments for the past two weeks.
A new system called the Integrated Philippine Customs System (iPCS) is expected to replace the trouble-plagued e2m hopefully by July next year after bidding for the contract is finalized next month, the BOC said. iPCS has a budget of P550 million.
The bureau’s Management Information System and Technology Group (MISTG) met with stakeholders, value-added service providers (VASPs) and customs brokers last Friday in a bid to appease irate exporters and importers affected by a huge backlog of entries that froze the e2m.
Customs Deputy Commissioner for MISTG Ma. Caridad Manarang apologized to more than 350 people who attended the dialogue, personally taking the blame for the transaction backlog that led to server overload, slowing lodging and processing of entries.
“I take full responsibility (for) what happened two weeks ago and (for) what is happening in MISTG,” Manarang stressed as she opened the forum at the BOC Social Hall in Port Area.
Her team explained the server overload prevented e2m users from logging into the system, leading to slow response from VASPs or a snag in online payments through the Philippine Clearing House Corp (PCHC).
For his part, Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon in his address to the stakeholders said, “Action is being taken. We do not benefit from this problem. We are allies here. Please let us approach you in an objective manner.”
MISTG Director for Technology Management Jonathan Soriano blamed the system slowdown on, among other things, an overload in the database server that now stores 1.6 terabytes of information; the system being only a “hybrid”; and network timeouts or intermittent network connections. Failing generators were also among the culprits.
In the system’s recent malfunction on May 9-14, the team had received almost 10,000 entries, the surge mostly felt after Election Day.
In response to the two-week problem, the MISTG is now closely monitoring the e2m server and users’ activities; coordinating with VASPs and the PCHC; and extending staff working hours to process documents.
Manarang said her team had foreseen the problem in 2011 and asked for funding of P192.4 million after assessing what she called “points of failure”, but that until now the money has not come. The system was configured to hold five years of data but it had completely filled up after only three years.
The team is also installing an infrastructure that consists of a report server, an archiving server and a streamlined database server, while waiting for the upgrade to iPCS. On another note, an ongoing PLDT network project is now in use, with Cebu initially benefiting from it.
“The solution (to the server clogging problem) is quite complex. It is not as simple as buying a machine and plugging it in. We are dealing with the BOC database, which is very large and very critical. We don’t want to lose data,” an MISTG staff said in the question and answer portion.
After the dialogue, the Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc submitted a letter to Biazon re-stating the problems that resulted from the system slowdown. These include:
- Delayed filing of import entries;
- Delayed cargo delivery to importers’ warehouses;
- Additional cost for importers in terms of storage and demurrage cost;
- Production delays and shut-downs, late delivery penalties, and cancelled purchase orders for importers;
- Additional cost for truckers in terms of fuel, truck wear and tear, and daily allowance of crew while waiting for system restoration;
- Shipments getting abandoned even if the customs broker has already started the filing and processing;
- Additional electrical charges for reefer containers;
- Port and warehouse congestion due to sudden surge of volume of entries upon systems restoration;
- Decrease in monthly revenue collection target of BOC;
- Frequent overtime work for BOC personnel; and
- Loss of foreign investor trust in BOC’s trade facilitation capability.
Solutions put forward by CCBI and other stakeholders include:
- Authorizing the District Collector to effect “manual processing” and “manual release” whenever the system is down;
- Strictly observing government work hours of 8:00am to 5:00pm;
- Authorizing District Collectors to extend work hours for concerned personnel whenever the system goes down. The number of overtime hours should be equal to the number of hours the system is down to compensate for lost hours of processing.
- Effecting a memorandum of agreement with banks to render overtime work until all entries are lodged and those “in process” completely processed and released;
- Observing the “no breaktime policy” to compensate for downtime;
- Helping stakeholders negotiate for waiver and/or discount for storage, demurrage, electrical expenses and all other incidental charges;
- Extending free storage and demurrage period to 10 working days;
- Permanently disallowing direct connection of any VASP to the BOC server and ordering all VASPs to use their own gateway;
- Providing a 24/7 MISTG Helpdesk to accommodate stakeholders who will operate from 2:00am to 8:00am and 7:00pm to 12:00 midnight; and
- Preventing printing of reports during office hours to decongest system activity.
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