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The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has established the Shippers’ Protection Office (SPO) to protect domestic and international shippers “against unreasonable fees and charges imposed by domestic and international shipping lines.”

Under DOTr Department Order (DO) No. 2020-008, dated June 24 and signed by Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade, the SPO will look into “all complaints and issues related to the rates, charges, practices and operations of international and domestic shipping lines in the country.”

The creation of the SPO is part of “temporary measures undertaken by the Government, during the declaration of State of National Calamity, to protect people from the impact and effects of exorbitant and unreasonable shipping fees resulting in increased prices for domestic consumers.”

The order follows Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution No. 46, which approved DOTr’s recommendation creating a complaints office against international shipping lines under the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

The SPO will be headed the PPA general manager as chair and the administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) as vice chair.

The unit will be manned by at least two representatives each from DOTr Maritime, DOTr Legal, PPA, Philippine Coast Guard, and MARINA. PPA should also assign at least three employees who will constitute the SPO Secretariat.

The SPO chair is mandated to oversee, monitor, and evaluate the operations, management, of the office. He should also formulate and issue guidelines, rules, and regulations relevant to the activities and performance of the SPO.

The SPO and its members should:

  • collect and consolidate all relevant data and information regarding the operation and the fees and charges collected by domestic and international shipping lines;
  • require domestic and international shipping lines to submit comments or position on complaints/issues raised against them, and to appeal before the SPO, as may be necessary; and
  • coordinate with appropriate government agencies having jurisdiction and authority to regulate and/or resolve matters communicated with the office.

DOTr, PPA, PCG and MARINA are authorized to charge against their current budgetary appropriations and allocations amounts necessary to support resources for the effective implementation of DO 2020-008.

PortCalls has sought comments from the Association of International Shipping Lines and Philippine Liner Shipping Association but has yet to receive a response as of press time.

Port users and stakeholders for years have been requesting government to oversee operations and charges of international shipping lines. Before creation of the SPO, no government agency had direct jurisdiction over international shipping lines although their agents/local offices are required to register to MARINA; the agents also need to comply with Customs and tax rules.

In 2019, there were attempts to regulate local shipping charges through a joint administrative order, which was later replaced by a plan for an executive order. There are bills submitted to the House of Representatives pushing for the swift passage of a measure seeking to regulate foreign shipping lines’ charges as this is seen to lower costs for importers and bring down prices of consumer goods.

READ: Lower House eyes swift ok of bill regulating foreign carriers’ shipping charges; EO eyed to regulate fees of international shipping lines

Domestic shipping lines, while deregulated under the Domestic Shipping Act of 2004, are still under the jurisdiction of MARINA. – Roumina Pablo

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