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The Philippine Liner Shipping Association (PLSA) is opposing plans to implement a Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS) at the Manila North Harbor (NH), saying it will only add to costs.

PLSA, in a position paper submitted to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) dated August 15, said it believes container volume at North Harbor (NH) “is managed (well) by MNHPI (Manila North Harbor Port, Inc.).”

And with no looming threat of port congestion, implementing TABS “will only translate to additional complexity in NH transactions, not to mention the financial impact of booking fees and penalty charges attendant to it.”

PLSA’s position was in reference to a PortCalls article last July 31 reporting on PPA’s plan to expand TABS implementation to two other Manila ports—NH and Harbour Centre.

PPA had said the plan was logical because all Manila terminals share the same network of trucks and TABS “is supposed to be a holistic approach.”

While PPA had communicated its plan to port operators and even invited PLSA to a public consultation on TABS penalties, it had not directly stated the proposal to the liner group.

According to PLSA, while it is true that both international and domestic cargoes are transported by trucks using the same road network, “TABS cannot ease nor resolve the traffic created outside of the terminal port gates.”

“What it allows is to prepare the terminal operator to properly manage its resources—manpower and equipment—to cope with huge cargo volume through better spreads of truck visits by allowing trucks with TABS the exemption, to a certain degree, from the truck ban hours,” PLSA stated.

“On the other hand, it makes one wonder how will TABS implementation ease traffic because trucks with TABS are allowed on hours when it is supposed to be banned from the roads,” it added.

Administration of TABS, an online booking system, was triggered by the Manila port congestion in 2014.

PLSA said TABS is an ideal solution to eliminate port congestion for international trade, especially at Manila South Harbor and Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), which handle substantial volume of containerized cargoes.

But PLSA said “there is no necessity for TABS to be implemented at NH,” considering the lack of impending threat of port congestion at North Harbor. Moreover, annual volume at NH stood at just 1.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) as of 2015 compared with Manila South Harbor and MCT’s combined annual volume of 2.8 million TEUs during the period.

PLSA said MNHPI’s statistics from 2015 to 2017 showed that daily per-hour truck arrivals at NH were steady. Travel time of domestic liners also varies from one day to five days, which means faster turnaround compared to foreign liners’.

The group likewise noted that unlike import cargoes of foreign liners, inbound domestic cargo generally need not contend with any release/clearance procedures from any government agency. This means a shorter two days’ stay for domestic cargoes versus five days for import cargoes, according to PLSA.

Most domestic shipping lines also maintain off-dock container yards in the port zone of NH, which allows them flexibility in managing container transfers/moves for both laden and empty containers.

The group added that with faster frequency of calls from Manila to outports, domestic shipping lines can opt to move their empties to outports where they also have off-dock container yards.

Further, PLSA said, an operations consultative committee consisting of representatives from PPA Port Management Office-National Capital Region, MNHPI, and shipping lines has already been set up to serve as a forum on which to deliberate operational issues and concerns and other matters involving stakeholders or parties concerned.

The group also asked PPA to carefully consider peculiarities distinct to NH port operations as it “may be impractical for TABS implementation.”

For one, PLSA said, there are different types of domestic cargo handled in the port, which includes not just containerized, but bulk and roll-on/roll-off cargoes as well. There are also walk-in clients, off-dock transfers, and questions regarding “who will do the booking” because there are no customs brokers to do transactions for domestic cargoes.

PLSA also noted that during the July 26 public consultation on TABS penalties, a member of the PPA hearing panel disclosed a pending case filed with the Manila Regional Trial Court by customs brokers “wherein one of the issues raised in the proceeding is for the Court to declare as unreasonable, discriminatory, and without legal basis the establishment/implementation of TABS as well as the imposition of TABS booking fees, late charges, and penalties.”

Given all this, PLSA said, “any plan to implement TABS at the Manila NH should await the outcome of the said case, or until the legality thereof is upheld by the court.”

The group is requesting for “more extensive discussion” with PPA “on the rationale for, and the practicality of, the implementation of TABS at the NH and to include in the discussions and deliberations all NH stakeholders.”

North Harbor operator MNHPI last month met with stakeholders, including PLSA, about PPA’s plan, assuring that the system would not be implemented without prior consultation with them.

Previous discussions on applying TABS in NH did not push through due to the opposition of stakeholders. – Roumina Pablo

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