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Customs commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will go after customs brokers in violation of customs regulations.

In a statement last week, Guerrero said President Rodrigo Duterte, in a meeting in Malacañang, expressed his displeasure with unscrupulous customs brokers involved in illegal activities. Guerrero said the President wants to see erring customs brokers’ accreditation and licenses revoked and cases filed against them.

Guerrero also noted receiving reports that errant customs brokers are allegedly charging importers “customs facilitation fees,” a practice he noted is unauthorized and illegal.

BOC said that due to these alleged illegal activities of customs brokers, importers had clamored for a customs memorandum order (CMO) allowing them to act as declarants, citing provisions under Republic Act (RA) No. 10863, otherwise known as the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).

BOC recently released CMO 34-2019 which provides interim guidelines for implementing Section 106 (Declarant) and Section 107 (Rights and Responsibilities of the Declarant) of the CMTA. The CMO also provides rules on the accreditation and registration of persons, other than the customs broker, who are entitled to act as declarant and sign the goods declaration for consumption, warehousing, and transit.

Under CMO 34-2019, declarants may be the consignee or importer; exporter; customs broker acting under the authority of the importer or from a holder of the bill; the person who has the right to dispose of the goods; the holder of the bill of lading or airway bill duly indorsed by the shipping line or airline; or a person duly empowered to act as agent or attorney-in-fact for each holder.

“The Bureau has initiated reforms in our systems to improve efficiency, promote transparency and remove opportunities to commit graft,” Guerrero said.

The BOC chief also stressed that the fight against corrupt BOC officials continues with more vigor and intensity, and those found to be involved in graft and corruption will be made to account for their actions.

In a statement sent to PortCalls, Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc. (CCBI) president Adones Carmona said he welcomes BOC going after erring customs brokers, as long as “there is sufficient evidence.”

He added that he does not condone any illegal activities by CCBI’s members, and “they have to face the consequences resulting [from] their actions.”

He also suggested that BOC provide CCBI with details, information, and documents so that the chamber, which is a Professional Regulation Commission (PRC)-accredited professional integrated organization (AIPO), can “discipline our erring members and recall their Certificate of Good Standing.”

The Certificate of Good Standing, a requirement for customs brokers to register with BOC, is issued by CCBI.

Carmona said CCBI can endorse the suspension and revocation of customs brokers’ registration with BOC if sufficient grounds are found by the PRC and Professional Regulatory Board for Customs Brokers (PRBCB).

Carmona said these suggestions are in accordance with Customs Administrative Order (CAO) No. 05-2019 (Rules on the registration of customs brokers and their representatives), which orders BOC’s Account Management Office or its equivalent office to furnish the AIPO with the list of customs brokers with pending or resolved cases of revocation of registration with BOC.

Under the same order, the Customs commissioner may coordinate with PRBCB in investigating and prosecuting erring customs brokers and revoking their licenses.

However, CCBI has also been asking BOC to recall CMO 34-2019, which authorizes non-customs brokers to act as declarants. CCBI stated that authorizing non-customs brokers to “practice our beloved profession is in direct contrast to the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9280,” or the Customs Brokers Act of 2004.

While the use of customs brokers’ services is not practiced in several other countries, it is mandated in the Philippines by RA 9280.

In a July 12 letter to Guerrero, Carmona noted that CMO 34-2019 is “unfair and degrading to our profession.” He noted in particular how Section 11 of CMO 342019 “simply and deliberately instructs the declarant” to input in BOC’s electronic-to-mobile system area, which is intended for the PRC ID number of the customs broker, the entry “non-broker.”

“This completely negates the strict qualifications to become a customs broker required by RA 9280,” Carmona said.

He said the new order will also have a chilling effect on the more than 11,000 licensed customs brokers all over the Philippines who had spent at least four years working toward a degree and another seven months to take and pass the customs brokers licensure examination.

Further, Carmona said, CMO 34-2019 “will surely encourage the proliferation of ‘declarants and consignees for hire’.”

He said the new order “opens the floodgates for just any individual and entity to be accredited as declarant without restraint and accountability as that of a licensed customs broker governed by RA 9280 and Code of Professional Ethics and Technical Standards.”

Carmona said there is also a pending declaratory relief case concerning Section 106 (d) of the CMTA that was filed by CCBI before the Regional Trial Court of Manila Branch 16. He said the chamber believes BOC should wait for the case’s resolution and finality.

Guerrero on July 22 said he has already instructed the deputy commissioner for Revenue Collection and Monitoring Group to talk to CCBI on resolving the declarant issue. – Roumina Pablo

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