The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is reviewing the implementation of the Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS) and its penalties as it still sees “room for improvement.”
“While we know that the TABS system is effective and it has contributed a lot, we feel that there is still room for improvement to better manage the system,” PPA Commercial Services Department (CSD) manager Emma Suzara said during a public consultation on TABS penalties on July 26.
“We know how the system works but we just want to weigh in (on) your positions, not only the position of affected stakeholders and interested parties, but the terminal operators as well, so as part of the regulatory function of PPA we are here to listen to you to improve on this,” she added.
Suzara is the chairman of the special committee that was created under PPA Special Order No. 637-17 and that is tasked to conduct public consultation on the schedule of penalties for TABS.
TABS is an online booking system implemented in Manila’s two international terminals—Manila South Harbor and Manila International Container Terminal (MICT). Penalties cover instances of late and “no show” by trucks.
“As we keep tight watch on conditions that will precipitate, possibly, the recurrence of port congestion, we continue to be reminded that managing traffic is volatile and without the necessary elements, systems, technology, and more often than not, expensive and costly investments needed to prevent disruption in the supply chain, the congestion that we all seek to conquer will surely happen again,” PPA assistant general manager for Operations Hector Miole said in his opening remarks during the consultation.
Deadline for position papers
Suzara said the special committee will make a final recommendation to PPA management based on the points raised during the public consultation and the position papers to be sent in by stakeholders. PPA gave five calendar days for stakeholders to submit their position, not just on the penalties, but on the system as well.
The PPA management will then elevate its decision to the PPA Board of Directors for its final decision. Suzara said submission of the special committee’s recommendation is targeted for this August.
Asked why PPA is now spearheading for the first time a public consultation on TABS penalties, Suzara explained that previous decisions had emanated from the Office of the President through the Cabinet Secretary because of the “extraordinary circumstance” of port congestion during that time.
She added that PPA was still part of the different consultations, briefings, and trainings on TABS when it was being proposed and starting implementation.
In an interview with PortCalls after the latest consultation, Suzara said TABS’ rates were not tackled because the matter is sub judice, or already under review by the regional court as part of a case filed against port operators and PPA for implementing TABS.
TABS pros and cons
During the consultation, some of the stakeholders manifested their support for TABS. A representative of Yusen Logistics Philippines, Inc. said the system has helped them educate their drivers, and manage deliveries and expectation of customers.
Their truckers, the representative noted, are “very careful in accepting bookings” as they already consider whether they will make it to the booking slot.
The representative added, however, that while forwarders and truckers are learning to adjust to the system, shippers and consignees must also be taught to not load or unload shipments late, as this might eventually lead to late arrival.
Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc. (CCBI) director Samson Gabisan, who is also a trucker, requested that penalties, especially for a “no show,” be reduced by half.
Aduana Business Club, Inc. legal counsel Atty. Alex Calderon, meanwhile, asked how the rates were arrived at, but PPA Legal Services Department manager Atty. Hiyasmin Delos Santos said such information could not be divulged as it is already being reviewed by the court.
In response to the query, Christian Gonzalez, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) executive vice president for Asia Pacific Region and MICT head, said penalty rates initially proposed by the government was P10,000 for late arrival and P35,000 for no show, which he noted were steep. The rates, after various consultations, were lowered until they reached their current rates.
Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines chairman Ruperto Bayocot asked if the rates for a slot could be waived if the booking is cancelled since the slot will be paid for by the next user anyway.
ICTSI’s Gonzalez, responded that “in reality I agree with that” because there are cases when it’s the client or the shipping line that cancels the booking, adding that in the case of a no-show, “pwede naman pag-usapan (this can be discussed).”
Gonzalez was firm, however, about imposing a penalty because “otherwise it’s all going to be a no-show.”
“While I understand the concern on the no-show, you also have to understand our point on the fairness of the five-hour window,” he added, referring to the five-hour period when trucks could come without penalties.
A representative from Eagle Express, meanwhile, noted that the truck ban exemption, which was supposed to be one of the benefits of using TABS, is not being enjoyed by all truckers because it does not cover truck bans enforced by various local government units (LGUs).
While trucks are exempt from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority truck ban, truckers said they still have to observe truck bans imposed by different LGUs. The Eagle Express representative also noted that not all trucks ply Roxas Boulevard, which was opened to trucks that are using TABS.
To this, PPA’s Suzara said “we’ll see what we can do.”
Not for profit
During the forum, PPA also clarified the notion held by some stakeholders that TABS is being used for profit by port operators and the port authority.
Suzara said, “I don’t think that is the focus here, no.”
The CSD chief said the penalty is just a consequence for not following the system and that it can be avoided.
ICTSI’s Gonzalez also claimed that the port operator is spending “hundreds of millions” to improve access to the ports, one of which is concreting Claro M. Recto extension, or more commonly known as South Access Road. He pointed out that the access road is a national road but the government has not spent a single centavo for its development.
Philippine International Seafreight Forwarders Association, Inc. president Doris Torres requested that receipts be issued for every transaction made, as the only receipt they get is when topping up their accounts.
Association of International Shipping Lines general manager Atty. Maximino Cruz, meanwhile, said that “before we assail TABS, let me correct the misimpression that TABS is the ultimate solution.”
He said the real problem is the lack of infrastructure projects, which he noted the government is now putting in place.
“We all have to admit that there are imperfections in TABS and all these imperfections can be addressed,” Cruz said. – Roumina Pablo