Since its establishment last year until April 15, 2021, the Shippers’ Protection Office (SPO) has received 45 complaints against and 3 inquiries about shipping lines
Of the 45 complaints, 3 were resolved, 5 referred to other government agencies, 2 undergoing clarificatory meetings, 5 waiting for comments from complainees, and 27 returned so they can comply with the prescribed format
Philippine Ports Authority general manager Jay Daniel Santiago said the issue of “unregulated shipping charges is a legislative and regulatory issue and is not the reason why complaints have not been resolved”
SPO only provides a grievance mechanism against unscrupulous practices of shipping companies and “does not have any authority to render any form of judgment for or against any party”, Santiago said
The Shippers’ Protection Office (SPO) has received 45 complaints against and three inquiries about shipping lines since the office was established last year until April 15, 2021, according to data provided by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).
Of the 45 complaints, three were resolved/closed, five were referred to other government agencies, two are undergoing clarificatory meetings, five are waiting for comments from complainees, and 27 were returned for compliance with the prescribed format.
One of the complaints was filed by the Port Users Confederation of the Philippines, Inc. (PUCP) in September 2020. The case is based on alleged “baseless and exorbitant” destination charges imposed by foreign shipping lines.
The complaint went through a series of hearings from February to March 2021; it is still pending, PUCP told PortCalls.
PPA general manager and SPO chair Jay Daniel Santiago, when asked if unresolved cases are due to lack of government regulation over foreign shipping charges, explained the issue of “unregulated shipping charges is a legislative and regulatory issue and is not the reason why complaints have not been resolved.”
In a text message to PortCalls, he said further, “The issues can be resolved if the parties agree to resolve it between themselves whether or not there are regulations on shipping charges.”
Santiago stressed that the SPO provides a grievance mechanism against unscrupulous practices of shipping companies. “It does not have any authority to render any form of judgment for or against any party.”
On whether the SPO will become a permanent office under PPA or not, Santiago said it “would probably remain until such time that a permanent office or agency is created to provide a grievance machinery for shippers even after the pandemic.”
“Ideally there should be a permanent office that can provide relief and render judgment in favor of shippers,” he added.
The SPO was created through Department of Transportation Department Order (DO) No. 2020-008 dated June 24 as part of temporary measures to protect the public during a state of national calamity “from the impact and effects of exorbitant and unreasonable shipping fees resulting in increased prices for domestic consumers.”
The order mandates the SPO to protect domestic and international shippers “against unreasonable fees and charges imposed by domestic and international shipping lines.” The SPO should look into “all complaints and issues related to the rates, charges, practices and operations of international and domestic shipping lines in the country.”
The SPO is headed by the PPA general manager as chair and the administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) as vice chair. The SPO Secretariat is headed by PPA’s Port Operations and Services Department.
Under SPO rules of procedures, proceedings should be non-litigious and summary in nature. The SPO should also not be bound by the technical rules of procedure and evidence, but should evaluate and draft recommendations on all complaints and issues as quickly as possible “in accordance with fairness, justice and equity.”
If the complaint is recognized by the SPO, the person complained of will be furnished a copy and instructed to submit a comment or opposition, together with supporting documents, within 10 calendar days from receipt.
Failure to file the required comment/opposition within the prescribed period will be considered a waiver, and the complaint will be deemed submitted for disposition and recommendations, unless a clarificatory conference is deemed by the SPO to be necessary.
A clarificatory conference is a meeting called between the complainant and the party complained of before the complaints officer of SPO. Its objective is to clarify facts and issues, willingness to enter into a compromise agreement, or other matters as may aid the prompt and just resolution of the case.
All complaints brought to the SPO may be the subject of compromise, except violations not subject to compromise under the law.
Port users and stakeholders have long asked the government to oversee the operations and charges of international shipping lines. Currently, no government agency has direct jurisdiction over these carriers, although the liners’ agents/local offices are required to register with MARINA and to follow Customs and tax rules.
In 2019, there were attempts to regulate local shipping charges through a joint administrative order, which was then replaced with a plan for an executive order that has not materialized yet.
There are currently bills at the House of Representatives pushing for the swift passage of a measure to regulate foreign shipping lines’ charges. – Roumina Pablo