Benefits of PPA container registry unclear, system up for review

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Benefits of PPA container registry system unclear, prompting review
Transportation Undersecretary Elmer Sarmiento at the April 12, 2023 Senate Committee on Public Services hearing on high logistics costs. Photo from the Office of Senator Grace Poe.
  • The Philippine Ports Authority’s container registry and monitoring system remains on hold and is subject for another round of review by the Philippine Ports Authority Board
  • Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the PPA Board is “not very clear” on the system’s benefits
  • The system’s implementation has been on ice since January

The benefits of Philippine Ports Authority’s (PPA) container registry and monitoring system are unclear, with the policy still subject for review by the PPA Board, according to Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista.

The implementation of the system has been on hold by the PPA Board since January, Bautista said during a Senate Committee on Public Services hearing of Senate Resolution No. 484, chaired by Grace Poe, on April 12.

SR 484, filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to investigate several PPA policies, including the Trusted Operator Program-Container Registry and Monitoring System (TOP-CRMS), that have allegedly led to “excessive” rises in port fees and charges.

TOP-CRMS is PPA’s proposed electronic system to register and monitor the movement of foreign containers entering and leaving PPA ports. Under PPA Administrative Order No. 04-2021, foreign containers are required to register to TOP-CRMS and to secure a container insurance policy.

PPA earlier said TOP-CRMS is the solution to the long drawn-out issue on return of container deposits imposed by foreign shipping lines, as well as management of return of foreign empty containers.

Unclear benefits

During a meeting among agencies that are members of the PPA Board plus other concerned agencies, Bautista said “we are not very clear on… the benefits, that’s why the (PPA) Board decided to defer” implementation.

The transport chief’s statement is a view echoed by Poe.

“Hindi talaga klaro kasi (It’s not really clear because), first of all, another layer of bureaucracy but the benefits of which are questionable,” the senator said in a media interview after the hearing.

Parang talaga bang makakatulong ‘yan doon sa mga nagiging problema, (Can it really help solve problems) especially when it comes to the efficiency and cost of shipping? Parang (It’s like) it’s not being addressed in this new policy,” Poe said.

“Sa tingin ko marami talagang dapat ayusin sa polisya na ito at hindi pa talaga tayo handa na i-implementa,” (In my view, there are many things in the policy that need to be fixed and that we’re really not yet ready to implement it,) she said.

The senator also welcomed the moratorium on the implementation of TOP-CRMS, saying “it shows that at least the DOTr [Department of Transportation] is listening to feedback.”

Beyond the issue of clarity, TOP-CRMS is widely opposed. Seventeen stakeholders and business organizations earlier called on President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr to intervene and immediately scrap TOP-CRMS, which they said “threatens to cripple the transport and logistics industries and the national economy as a whole.” They said the system will only increase costs, will not solve port congestion as claimed by PPA, and will be a “clear usurpation of Customs function.”

RELATED READ: Scrap PPA container monitoring system, 17 business groups urge Marcos

The majority or almost all stakeholders’ representatives present during the April 12 hearing raised their hands when asked who opposed the system.

Bautista noted around 20 stakeholders’ representatives have aired their opposition to TOP-CRMS during a March 14 public consultation called by DOTr. Moreover, the transport chief said European Union ambassadors whom they’ve talked to have told them not to implement the system.

READ: DOTr scrutinizes PPA container monitoring policy

In addition, many government agencies “are not supporting” TOP-CRMS, including the Department of Trade and Industry and National Economic and Development Authority who “want to fully understand” the system first, Bautista said

“Sabi nga ng (Per) members of the board, before we do that, let’s be sure na talagang (that we certainly) we like it, no. That’s why we will again discuss among ourselves sa board kung (if) we have to implement it or not,” Bautista said.

During the April 12 hearing, DOTr Undersecretary for Maritime Elmer Francisco Sarmiento said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., through the Executive Secretary, directed the transport department “to make a thorough study and evaluation of whether TOP CMRS violates the ease of doing business.”

At the same hearing, Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) director general Ernesto Perez clarified his agency did not “green light” implementation of TOP-CRMS— a PPA claim — when ARTA gave a “good practice” rating to the regulatory impact statement (RIS) on TOP-CRMS’ proposed implementing operational guidelines (IOG).

In a March 5 statement, PPA claimed that after “careful consideration and a series of reviews”, PPA AO 04-2021 and its IOG had received “a greenlight from the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA).”

Perez noted: “It is beyond ARTA’s authority to give a green light to any proposed regulation by any government agency.”

PPA’s RIS for the proposed IOG of AO 04-2021 garnered a score of 36 out of 40 or a “good practice” rating, which means it has elements where analysis or the process were “not of exceptional quality and could have been improved.”

Perez said they found two deficiencies in the areas of implementation and enforcement, and in monitoring and evaluation.

PPA general manager Jay Daniel Santiago, during the same hearing, said the two deficiencies can only be determined when TOP-CRMS is implemented.

He noted he sees no problem if TOP-CRMS is not implemented. “Halimbawa po hindi ito matuloy, wala pong problema. (In case this won’t push through, no problem.) We move forward. We concentrate on the other mandates of the PPA,” Santiago said. – Roumina Pablo