MEMBERS of the customs brokers association in Davao City have signified their support for van inspection inside the Sasa Wharf and not at the private yard, in what appears to be a tug-of-war as to where these container vans are to be stripped and inspected.

This developed as Lawyer Manuel Quibod, legal counsel of Acquarius Container Yard (ACY) owner Rodolfo Reta, accused the Bureau of Customs Port of Davao of snubbing the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC).

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Quibod said TRO issued by RTC Executive Judge Isaac Robillo Jr. directed BOC Port of Davao District Collector Anju Nereo Castigador not to remove any container van for examination outside the designated examination area (DEA).

The court also ordered BOC to conduct the examination of laden containers inside the Acquarius Container Yard and not at the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) yard inside the Sasa wharf.

The TRO was issued on March 1 and is effective for three days.

Quibod said they readily served the TRO to the BOC on March 1 but the BOC continued the examination of container vans at the PPA yard in defiance to the court order.

Meanwhile, Reta said that they will be asking for an extension of the TRO on Thursday. He also floated the possibility of filing a contempt of court against BOC officials for not adhering to the temporary restraining order.

The legal conflict between Reta and the BOC officials started when Castigador ordered for the withdrawal of all container vans inside the ACY and for their transfer to the PPA yard inside the Sasa wharf.

Reta said this is in violation of the container-yard-outside-customs-zone (CYOCZ) memorandum of agreement (MOA) between ACY and the BOC.

Castigador, however, said that Reta’s decision to cease operation indicates that he is no longer interested on keeping on with the MOA.

Brokers' stand

In a statement dated March 2, the Chamber of Customs Brokers Incorporated-Davao City Chapter said they have "been experiencing a hard time for the release of imported cargo that passes through the ACY DEA."

"We the Customs Brokers in the Port of Davao firmly and strongly support your memorandum order that all the examination, stripping and final withdrawal of shipments be done inside the Sasa Wharf," the letter addressed to Castigador.

Last Friday, Castigador moved the examination of all laden container vans inside the Sasa Wharf.

Among other reasons stated, the Customs Brokers cited the monopoly of ACY DEA in port operations, which includes the examination of container vans and its transport from inside the port to the ACY DEA, a mere 100 meters away from each other.

"The monopoly of hustling of container vans from the pier to ACY DEA has resulted to chaos of the existing trucking companies," said in the two-page statement signed by 28 Customs brokers in the city, representing all major shipping lines that dock at the Sasa Wharf.

The brokers added that the transfer of container vans from the port to ACY DEA is time consuming, that’s why they prefer for the inspections inside the Sasa Wharf.

Also, the ACY DEA can only conduct stripping on two or three container vans simultaneously during physical examination.

"From the time that ACY DEA was opened until now, the above mentioned problems have never been resolved and settled," the Customs brokers said.

Previously, members of the Chamber of Customs Brokers Incorporated-Davao City chapter have repeatedly complained against Reta for increasing examination fees without due process, among other alleged forms of harassment.

Reta operates the Custom's designated examination area and imposes a fee ranging from P3,000 to as much as P7,000 per container, not including the transport of the container vans from the Sasa Wharf to the Designated Examination Area at a cost of P800 per container van.

"These fees are not paid to the Bureau of Customs, only tariffs and taxes are paid to us. The fees go directly to the service provider," Castigador said.

"What he wanted to happen is that even the examination of the empty containers be done at the Designated Examination Area of the Bureau of Customs, which is located inside Aquarius (Container Yard). But we did not accede to that as the x-ray machine will be placed inside the Sasa Wharf to effectively deter terrorism and other security breaches," Castigador told Sun.Star Davao.

Both ACY DEA and transporting systems are operated by Reta.

Monday, six councilors trooped to the office of Castigador to inquire about the alleged mis-declaration of goods in 40 container vans but they failed to talk to Castigador, who was in a meeting with security officials.

40 Container Vans

Highlighted this week was the transfer of 40 container vans that contained alleged mis-declared goods from the ACY DEA to the Philippine Ports Authority yard inside the Sasa wharf.

"It is not only 40 container vans that were transferred from DEA to the PPA yard, there are 92 containers to be exact," Castigador said.

"And it was transferred as ACY halted operations last Friday, and the importers need those materials to be released immediately."

The release of the vans has been halted with the issuance of a TRO, the customs official said.

No authority

Catigador also questioned the photos of an opened container van that was shown to be loaded with rice instead of the declared talcum powder that Reta showed to reporters.

"I don't know how they opened the container vans as they are not in the position to open these. Reta is only a service provider, he has no jurisdiction over the goods," Castigador said.

"I am sorry to say this, but appropriate charges will be filed against him on that matter."

The standard operating procedure for the opening of container vans, including alerted ones such as the 40 container vans, is that it shall only be opened in the presence of the consignee or a representative, the Customs' examiner, and the alerting office.

He added that while he was in a meeting Friday, he received a phone call from his staff informing him that ACY DEA has halted operations.

"I wrote him a memorandum saying that since he is no longer interested to act as DEA, for the meantime, I am moving all examination and stripping of laden container vans to the wharf," Castigador said.

An x-ray machine has been put up inside the Sasa Wharf following the discovery of cocaine in empty container vans last December.

X-Ray Controversy

Another controversy hurled against the Castigador is the putting up of an x-ray machine inside the Sasa Wharf.

"There have been issues hurled against it, even including its alleged health hazards on the population and the workers in the area," Castigador said.

"But the barangay has even manifested that the people who are opposing it are not actually residents of the area."

Officials of the health department who have inspected the area on two occasions, one in December and another last February, have ascertained the safety of the x-ray machines on the surrounding population and workers in the area.

Morales Support

With the rift between the Bureau of Customs-Port of Davao and ACY DEA, Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales has instructed Castigador to move fast and act on the situation so as not to hinder the processes at the Port of Davao.

"He is fully supportive of our decisions," Castigador said.

In a speech Monday, during the flag raising ceremonies at the Bureau of Customs grounds, Castigador told his staff that the controversy might cost him his job.

"But it is a risk I'd take, standing by my agency and what we believe is right. It is a legacy I shall be proud to leave, aside from exceeding our targets," Castigador said. (With report from Ben O. Tesiorna)