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Matnog Port one-stop shop eyed to address extortion

  • The Anti-Red Tape Authority is eyeing the opening of a one-stop shop at Matnog Port in Sorsogon province by June following reports of passenger congestion and extortion at the port
  • Truck owners have complained of fees as high as P8,000 in exchange for a priority slot to board vessels
  • Fixers are also reportedly asking passengers for coffee and snack money
  • ARTA will conduct more meetings to identify agencies that will man the one-stop shop; the initial list includes Philippine Ports Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, and barge operators

The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) is eyeing the opening of a one-stop shop at Matnog Port in Sorsogon province by June to address allegations of extortion and corruption at the gateway.

This after the agency received numerous reports of passenger congestion that has allegedly led to extortion at the port, ARTA said in a statement.

Matnog is the jump-off port from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao.

According to reports from truck owners, hauling trucks are being asked to pay as much as P8,000 to secure a priority slot on board vessels. The complainants said the official fee is only P3,000, with the extra going to fixers and corrupt officials.

The fixers also reportedly ask passengers for money to buy coffee and snacks.

In a meeting with private stakeholders on May 21, ARTA undersecretary Carlos Quita said ARTA received information about the situation from former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol more than a month ago. The ARTA management immediately coordinated with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and other concerned offices to address the matter.

In response, the Matnog Municipal Police Station and other police elements laid down an entrapment operation on March 18, 2021 and arrested three fixers.

Officials of at least two shipping lines also complained of local government units (LGU)–specifically an LGU-created task force—intervening in operations. ARTA said it appeared the task force has usurped the authority of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to operate and manage Matnog Port.

“’Yun nga din po ang pinagtatakahan namin (That’s what we’re wondering about) because we are operating in 30 ports nationwide, and diyan po sa (in) Matnog Port (the situation) is very different, may (there is) LGU intervention,” one shipping line official said.

Mahirap po, hindi po maintindihan ng (It’s hard and confusing for) shipping lines, kaya raw po mag intervention ang LGU is para raw ma-streamline ang (LGUS claim to intervene to streamline) flow of operations. Pero ang tingin po namin is lalo po siyang nagulo (But we think the situation causes greater confusion),” the complainants added.

Quita said LGUs have no jurisdiction over port operations, and cargo/hauling trucks should not be stopped or prevented from boarding vessels as long as they have the necessary business permits, licenses, and pertinent documents.

He also cited Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2021-01, which prohibits the unauthorized collection of fees and taxes on the transport of goods and products. JMC 2021-01, signed last April, provides omnibus guidelines on the suspension of LGUs’ imposition and collection of illegal fees and taxes relative to the transport of goods and products.

READ: LGU pass-through fees on cargo vehicles illegal, joint memo stresses

ARTA said more meetings will be conducted to identify which government agencies will be involved in the one-stop shop, but the initial list includes PPA, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and barge operators.

READ: Measures rolled out to ease Matnog port road congestion

Relatedly, PPA, PCG, and the Maritime Industry Authority last March said measures have been laid out to address hampered shipping operations along the Matnog-Allen route caused by perennial congestion and truck queueing along the road leading to Matnog Port. – Roumina Pablo

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