CCBI offers free legal aid to brokers

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CCBI offers free legal aid to brokers
  • The Chamber of Customs Brokers Inc. is providing free legal assistance to customs brokers in distress
  • CCBI Resolution No. 05-2023 provides a lawyer for brokers facing charges related to the exercise of the profession
  • Funds of the CCBI National Office will pay for lawyer’s fees
  • The CCBI also adopted a draft standard contract that may provide additional protection against potential cases
  • CCBI Resolution No. 06-2023 adopted a Contract of Customs Broker Professional Service that aims to protect a customs broker from certain cases

The Chamber of Customs Brokers Inc. (CCBI) is providing free legal assistance to customs brokers in distress due to the exercise of their profession.

Under CCBI Resolution No. 05-2023, approved and passed by majority of the CCBI National Board of Directors on April 11, customs brokers who request for lawyers will be provided one for cases filed against them before any court, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), and all other judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies.

The free legal assistance is exclusively for cases arising solely from the customs broker’s practice of the profession in which he/she relied in good faith on information contained in shipping documents provided by the client importer.

The assistance does not extend to cases related to irregularities in dealings with clients or conduct with co-professionals, and the like.

CCBI also adopted a draft standard contract that customs brokers may use as added protection from potential cases.

Another CCBI resolution, No. 06-2023, passed on May 23, adopted the “Contract of Customs Broker Professional Service” form that specifies the professional duties of customs brokers, who are signatories to goods declarations, to their clients.

In a statement, CCBI said the decision to provide free legal assistance and the adoption of the standard contract are in response to the plight of customs brokers “left alone to fend off for themselves by their client importers once cases involving shipments are being filed.”

The resolutions noted that in the past few years, “countless criminal and administrative cases [had] been filed by the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture” in the courts, DOJ, and PRC against customs brokers and their client importers.

CCBI president Anthony Cristobal, in a phone interview with PortCalls, said the free legal assistance and advice also applies to customs brokers suspended by BOC without due process.

He noted that customs brokers only rely on documents provided to them by their client importers and are not privy to actual contents of the shipments.

According to both resolutions, it is “common knowledge” that customs brokers, in performing their functions, particularly in accomplishing the import declaration, are guided only by information about the imported goods gathered from the shipment’s bill of lading, commercial invoice, packing list, and certificate of origin, which they assume to be true and correct.

CCBI added that some brokers still suffer from prosecution despite the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Remigio vs. Sandiganbayan. The January 18, 2002 decision exonerates a customs broker from criminal liabilities as well as all similar court cases since they only relied on shipping documents presented by client importers.

Resolution No. 05-2023 noted that, in most instances, customs brokers are left on their own by client importers when cases are filed. In most instances, these customs brokers do not have the financial means to hire qualified lawyers versed in customs laws, procedures and practices.

Under the resolution, the decision to choose a lawyer for the customs broker in distress is the sole prerogative of the chairman of CCBI’s Committee on Public Affairs and Services.

Incumbent members of the CCBI board who are lawyers by profession may assist a requesting customs broker “by way of preference” before the committee chairman assigns a lawyer to the broker.

Lawyer’s fees will be paid from funds of the CCBI National Office. The amount will be released by the CCBI treasurer upon approval of the CCBI president, subject to audit and liquidation.

Meanwhile, under the standard contract, CCBI said a customs broker “will be held free and harmless” under following circumstances:

  • When an importation covered by a goods declaration signed/processed by the customs broker based on the shipping documents submitted by the client has been issued an alert order or warrant of seizure and detention, or when the shipment is forfeited for causes without participation and/or beyond the control of the customs broker.
  • When an importation covered by a goods declaration signed by the customs broker on the basis that the shipping documents submitted by the client were found to be misclassified, undervalued, undeclared or misdeclared.
  • When an importation covered by a goods declaration signed by a customs broker on the basis that the shipping documents given to him by the client were perceived to have violated customs laws, rules or regulations and other pertinent law, rule or regulation and other issuances.

CCBI said this “free and harmless clause protection to a customs broker is in addition to the indemnity clause or agreement that will be agreed on a case-to-case basis between the customs broker and his client.”

To come up with a mechanism on the adoption of the standard contract by all customs brokers, CCBI forwarded a copy of Resolution No. 06-2023 and the draft standard contract to the Professional Regulatory Board for Customs Brokers (PRBCB). The latter oversees the standardization and regulation of customs administration education; the examination and registration of customs brokers; and the supervision, control and regulation of the practice and customs broker profession.

Resolution No. 06-2023 resolved that CCBI should request PRBCB to issue a board resolution or a similar pronouncement supporting effective implementation of the standard contract.

CCBI said customs brokers who wish to avail themselves of the free legal assistance program or the draft standard contract may email the CCBI Secretariat at ccbisecretariatoffice@yahoo.com or drop by the CCBI office at Manila Executive Regency, 1200 J. Bocobo St., Ermita, Manila. – Roumina Pablo