Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Can You Tell Us About This Subic Photo?


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

US Embassy Outreach in Subic on June 1

MESSAGE FOR U.S. CITIZENS
U.S. Embassy representatives from the American Citizens Services (ACS)  of the Consular Section; Department of Homeland Security-Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS-CIS); Social Security Administration (SSA);  Veterans Affairs Office  (VA) and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VOCREHAB)  will be in:
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT ZONE
Friday, June 1, 2012
8:00am to 11:00am
VIP Room #1, Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center
Efficiency St., Subic Bay Gateway Park, SBFZ
ACS will:
  • Accept applications for Passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad
  • Provide information on registering with the Embassy
  • Perform notaries and affidavits of legal capacity to marry in the Philippines
Ø       Please note: Applicants for Citizenship and Passport service must read all information on the US Embassy website (http://manila.usembassy.gov/service.html.  Read this before you come and prepare all documents for the interview.  If you do not bring the required documentation, we will turn you away and you will have to schedule an appointment at the Embassy.
Ø       Due to demand, we might not be able to accommodate all applicants for interview during the three hours of the outreach and may implement a limit for some services.
DHS-CIS will:
  • Provide instructions for filing such applications/petitions
  • Distribute DHS forms and guidelines regarding DHS applications/petitions
  • Provide information related to Immigration matters
SSA will:
  • Discuss basic entitlement requirements for the different Social Security benefits;
  • Develop claims for benefits;
  • Process Social Security number applications;
  • Resolve Post-Entitlement cases, e.g., Change of Address, Report of Death, Medicare Enrollment, Direct Deposit enrollment, Non-receipt of benefits, etc.
VA will:
  • Field general inquiries on specific claims
  • Assist in filling out VA application forms for various benefits such as compensation, pension, death benefits, burial benefits, claim for dependents and change of address.
Additional information can be obtained prior to the visit by contacting: American Citizen Services Section of the American Embassy in Manila (02) 301-2000 ext. 2246.  
VOCREHAB will:
  • Disseminate information to US regular servicemen regarding the VR&E services;
  • Motivate qualified and eligible veterans to avail of these services;
  • Follow-up with those who have already claimed VR&E Benefits;
  • Monitor the progress of those who are on training;
Explore employment options & provide employment services for those who are on the job ready status.

IMPORTANT NOTICE:
While fees are listed in U.S. Dollars, because of banking issues, we can only accept Philippine pesos as payment for services.  (Peso exchange rate will be provided during the Outreach)
SCHEDULE OF FEES
PASSPORT APPLICATION FEES
Adult (16 and above) Passport Application fee (DS11): $135
Minor (under 16) Passport Application fee:                   $105
Passport Renewal fee (minor)                                              $105
                               (adult (DS82))                           $110
Additional Passport Pages:                              $82
Consular Report of Birth Abroad:                        $100
NOTARIALS
Affidavit
Extra Copy
       Other doc. related to the same transaction       $50
Acknowledgment of Signature                     $50
Voting registration card or absentee ballot             no fee
Savings Bonds                                   no fee
Affidavit of Legal Capacity to Marry            $50
Report of Death of an American Citizen                  no fee
Selective Service                                                       no fee
Inquiries regarding Non-Immigrant Visas will not be accommodated during the outreach.   Inquires must be made to the U.S. Embassy in Manila by calling (02) 982-5555  and (02) 902-8930 (for calls within the Philippines ) or via e-mail to ConsManilaNIV@state.gov   
American Citizens Services (jty)
U.S. Embassy, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (011) (63 2) 301-2000 extensions 2246 or 2567
Fax: (011)(63 2) 301-2017
Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.
 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Manila Immigration Tips

Even the most ardent lover of the Philippines can become frustrated when confronted with some government bureaucracy or agency that seems nearly insane. LTO can do it. Customs of course. But the grand daddy of controlled chaos and confusion is the Immigration office in Manila.
Everything from student visas, visa extensions and resident visa business is conducted in this building.
We recently had occasion to spend four entertaining, agonizing, irritating, hours in that asylum. It rivals airports for people watching. Mideastern students, Israeli rabbis, Indian traders, Mexican nuns, ancient men with very young girls. A gigantic melting pot.
There are multiple numbered windows to visit, copies to be made, things to sign, more windows and more copies. Fortunately there are two functioning copy machines near by.
Here are some tips on dealing with the Manila immigration office:
- Be the first one through the door. They open at 7:30 AM.
- Go on a mid-week day. Wednesday is ideal. Never go on Monday.
- Wear pants and shoes. No shorts or flip-flops.
- A wife or girlfriend who is Filipina can ease some tensions. Be patient. Keep your voice down and sarcasm to yourself. Have a newspaper, magazine or book in hand for waiting periods.
To travel we discovered a convenient, cheap way to get to Immigration from Olongapo. A 4 AM Victory Liner cost P202 and arrives at Caloocan at 6 AM. From there the LRT costs P15 pesos and you get off at Central Station. A two block walk gets you through the immigration doors at opening.
Good luck. Life in the PI sure is fun!

Why Drive to Quezon City?

Comment on the post: Are you ready for a drive to Quezon City?
Why drive to Quezon City? Certainly, there must be a way to avoid getting your drivers license “confiscated”. I fail to understand the reasoning behind surrendering your drivers license to the “Police or Highway Patrol” for an alleged traffic violation. Just give the offending driver a ticket, and if the ticket goes uncontested and unpaid, attach the infraction to the drivers LTO file. The next renewal of the offender’s driver’s license should show unpaid tickets. Then a NO Pay NO license renewal would work. It’s time for the Philippines to upgrade their enforcement of traffic laws and procedures for penalizing those who disregard the law.

From the Bugle: Agreed on all points, but until they figure out how computerize and manage the system, your best bet is to just pay the bribe or to keep a couple of extra licenses handy in case one gets taken.
 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Golf Tourney in Angeles

The Lewis Grand Hotel and Charlie the Korean Marketing Manager are sponsoring a golf tournament at Mimosa on June 1st.
It’s 2500 pesos entrance and includes Mimosa green fees with lots of prizes and includes a big banquet dinner afterwards in the grand ballroom at Lewis Grand and a bar hop at Forbidden City then at Blue Nile, then High Society, not a bad deal for golfers.
For info contact Charlie Jo at Lewis Grand Hotel
or by email at: withyouany@hanmail.net
or by call or text at
Globe 0917-494-3778
or
Smart 0929-447-2457

Are you ready for a drive to Quezon City?

Speeders on NLEX and SCTEX need to drive to Quezon City to obtain their confiscated driver's licenses...
 
Traders appeal transportation office’s policy

Sunday, May 27, 2012

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- The Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PamCham) has appealed to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) to reconsider its policy involving over-speeding motorists in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).

In a letter to Assistant Secretary Virginia P. Torres, PamCham chairman Levy P. Laus and PamCham president Marco Antonio Jimenez appealed the LTO policy of requiring over-speeding violators in the NLEx and SCTEx to retrieve their confiscated licenses from the LTO main office in Quezon City.

Have something to report? Tell us in text, photos or videos.

Instead, PamCham officials proposed that erring motorists be given the option to claim their confiscated licenses and pay the corresponding penalty from either the LTO main office or the LTO regional office here.

The NLEx and SCTEx are both located in Central Luzon and, for this reason, it is presumed that a substantial number of apprehended over-speeding violators are from the region.

“The current policy has caused and is causing considerable inconvenience, additional expense and unnecessary time expenditure on the part of erring motorists, particularly those from Central and North Luzon,” the officials said in a statement.

The PamCham officials said the current policy is more favorable to erring motorists from Metro Manila because of their proximity to the LTO main office in Quezon City.

They added that for violators in Central Luzon, the more reasonable and practical policy is to allow them to retrieve their confiscated licenses from the LTO regional office here in this city.

“We believe that is the basic rationale for our regional government agencies, and that is to bring the government and its services as close as possible to the public, particularly in the countryside,” the officials said.

PamCham, one of the most active chapters of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, aims to serve as catalyst for countryside growth and development in Central Luzon.

The group has been a long-time exponent of public-private partnership as a vital strategy in boosting economic and social progress in the region.

From Sun Star Pampanga

How Can SBMA Survive?

Interesting post from the Subic Bulletin:

Last week SBMA called a meeting with Locators in Subic Freeport to tell them that SMBA was broke and could not meet their obligations.

SBMA's answer to their problem, TAXES disguised as services fees!

Yes it now seems a regular event to struggle through the COLR or CUSA or whatever other name SBMA officials can find to create a new tax and each time SBMA is given categorical thumbs down by the locators and residents, why?

What is it that makes Locators and Residents unwilling to help SBMA in their time of need?

SBMA is after all is in the blood of everyone in Subic so why Locators and Investors should so strongly rejects SBMA's cries for help?

For us here at the Subic Bulletin the answer comes from an old saying:
"God helps those who helps themselves"

During the presentation the SBMA representative put up slides that showed SBMA's greatest expense was MANPOWER. SBMA has around 3600 employees to administer Subic Bay Freeport and has only been able to reduce this number by 1% per year.

In another slide the SBMA representative showed that SBMA was spending P6M per month in Street Cleaning! By our calculations SBMA could potentially have 1 employee per street?

For benchmarking purposes let’s look at Clark Development Corporation that administers the Clark Freeport, which has no seaport but a thriving Airport.

CDC administers the Clark Freeport including Luzon's budget airline airport with 700 employees.

So why does SBMA have 4 employees to 1 in Clark, if you ask people inside SBMA they will say Politics. SBMA was foundered by thousands of volunteers who were then given jobs; Dick Gordon ruled the Freeport with a strong hand and showed great potential for the development of Subic. Unfortunately, a personal argument between Dick Gordon and Joseph Estrada saw EA-1 under the Estrada government removing Dick Gordon from the Freeport which then opened up the Freeport to a string of political forces that wanted their own people employed and something in it for them coupled with low accountability and very poor business decisions. This has proven to be SBMA's recipe for disaster.

The new administrator and the new board of SBMA seems to be the best administration since the Gordon times and give us the most hope for SBMA to recover, but is it too little too late?

The current administration is faced with a daunting task of fixing something that’s been broken for a long time; obviously all those who are employed by SBMA don't want to lose their jobs so they again want to push the problem onto Residents and Locators.

One thing is for sure, if eventually one of these politically disguised taxes is ever implemented it will just put a band aid over the real problem and without a doubt the problem will fester and rise up again and again. We know the SBMA response to the festering problem will be INCREASE THE TAXES, after all they will find a way to be exempt so let’s just keep hitting up the investors and residents for problems we choose to ignore. As the taxes go up the benefit of the Freeport reduces and the investors go away, so what then, raise the taxes again and again will be their only solution, that’s why it’s a solution doomed to failure from the beginning.

So, as civic minded people how do we assist the new SBMA administration to resolve this problem?

We believe the SBMA board should make a resolution to outsource the placement services for people currently employed by SBMA into the Private and local Government Sectors. By doing this they will not unduly effect local unemployment, reduce costs, provided much needed employees to the private sector and most of all SAVE SBMA.

Hanjin alone wants 10,000 employees right now, although there won’t be a match on all of those position there is a golden opportunity to kick off the staff cost reduction program, then as SBMA gives 2% of taxes to surrounding local governments the local government units should be strongly encouraged to take SBMA employees to fill any vacant positions.

Once SBMA has reduced its staff by 60% spend a little of the saved money on training and higher salaries for the employees chosen to carry SBMA back to glory.

So back to my comments about helping those who help themselves, we believe that attitude of locators and residents to paying a little more in to SBMA would change dramatically once they saw SBMA doing something to solve their own problems long term.

It has been said that if SBMA can't get the locators and residents to pick up the bill then SBMA will be bankrupt and disbanded, so then all the SBMA employees will be out of a job, our option has to be better. Can the SBMA board have the strength both morally and politically to fix SBMA and give it a secure future?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What Can You Tell Us About This Subic Photo?


Zambales Brownouts

From the Manila Bulletin
 
 
BrownOuts
 
By JONAS REYES
 

CASTILLEJOS, Zambales — A power interruptions will be experienced in some parts of this province this weekend to give way to preventive maintenance of power distribution facilities.
Regional Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Officer for North Luzon of National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) Lilibeth Gaydowen said “the affected distribution utility are Zambales Electric Cooperative I (ZAMECO I) Taugtog Substation and Zambales Electric Cooperative II (ZAMECO II) Subic, Castillejos, San Antonio, San Narciso and San Felipe Substations.”
“The shutdown from these utilities is from 7 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. to 12 noon,” Gaydowen said.
Meanwhile, the Olongapo Public Utility (PUD) will also be affecting with this power shortage from 7 a.m. to 12 noon.
Gaydowen said that “normal operations will immediately resume after work completion. NGCP’s customers and the general public are advised to take the necessary preparations and precautions for this scheduled interruption.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Best Western Hotel Opening in Angeles


A Best Western Premier is expected to open its doors in 2014, will be a brand new luxury hotel offering a range of high-end facilities to the rapidly increasing number of domestic and international travelers visiting this thriving city.

As a Best Western Premier hotel – the most luxurious of Best Western’s three unique products – the new Casa Verde will feature luxury amenities, delivered with style and personalized service. The hotel’s 78 rooms will all offer LCD flat screen televisions, complimentary wireless internet access and luxury products, while hotel facilities will include an international all-day dining restaurant and a swimming pool.

Located in Central Luzon, close to Manila, Angeles is served by Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport – home to the Philippines’ largest airline, Cebu Pacific, and brand new low-cost carrier AirAsia Philippines. SEAIR also connects Clark to a range of international destinations, including Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

The airport is also on the cusp of a major expansion plan, which is projected to see it handle enormous number of passengers per year.

Such growth will lead to a huge increase in demand for hotel rooms in Angeles, and the Casa Verde will be joining the Best Western Premier hotel collection, the first stage in Best Western’s plan to satisfy the demand.

“The potential for Angeles as a tourism destination is enormous,” said Glenn de Souza, Best Western International’s Vice President International Operations – Asia & the Middle East. “The infrastructure developments being planned for the city, and nearby Clark airport, are truly staggering, even by the standards of 21st Century Asia”.

“The recent arrival of AirAsia Philippines, as well as the presence of Cebu Pacific, SEAIR, AirPhil Express and international carriers such as Jin Air and Dragonair, is testament to the growth of the country. In the years to come, Angeles will become an increasingly important regional hub for business, industry, aviation and tourism, and we are delighted to be at the forefront of this development,” Mr. de Souza added.

Best Western currently operates six hotels in the Philippines – five in Manila and one in Boracay – offering a total of 610 rooms. Also, a 80-room hotel is under development in Cebu.

Monday, May 21, 2012

US Embassy Outreach in Angeles City


Seafood Island

The Bugle recently had the opportunity to try out the recently opened Seafood Island located in the Harbor Point Mall on the second level.   This place specializes in seafood as the name implies but the also serve their food Boodle style.  In the PI a Boodle fight is a military style of eating where long tables are prepared and food is laid on top of the banana leaves. Viands and rice ready to eat using your bare hands, jugs of water are prepared on the side to wash hands before the "eating combat". With the signal to start the boodle fight, everyone aims for his/her position and the faster you are the more you can eat.  Now Seafood Island doesn't have you fight over your food but the portions are huge.  The Bugle ordered a menu item that was for 5-6 people and our party of four ended up bringing most of it home.  And it wasn't for lack of trying.  The food was tasty, there was plenty of it and the variety was amazing.  Just the look on the wife's face when the waiter brought over this tray of food that was bigger than our table was worth the price and the price was really decent in my opinion.  1,350p for a meal that could easily feed 8 people.  Stop on by and remember to bring your appetite.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Do I Take My Girlfriend on a Trip to Hong Kong?

So how in the hell am I supposed to take my girlfriend of 4 years on a 3 day trip to Hong Kong or Singapore?  I assume from this that she has to go all the way to Manila to attend some type of seminar which was actually meant for OFW's?  I'm all for anti-trafficking but there has to be some common sense when it comes to just taking a short tourist trip!  And how in the hell do you find out if she can take this trip other than just showing up at the airport and being refused departure?

From the Bugle: Your best best is to book the hotel in her name and then just walk through immigration separately. If she has traveled before and has a hotel booked in her name and she is not walking through with you she should be fine. In Manila, they are processing huge numbers of passengers through immigration and in Clark their motivation is not to protect her but rather to shake you down, so if you are out of the picture, standing several immigration lines away, they have no incentive to hassle her.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is the Philippines ready for high-speed highways?

Interesting point about raising the speed limits on the Highways in this article here. The Bugle is all for raising the speed limits but has worries about the inability of the local drivers to handle the speed.  I have seen numerous instances of people swerving in and out of lanes and the tendency for people to ride in the overtaking lanes for no reason than they can.  Maybe once the locals get more experience with higher speeds and the local police start enforcing basic traffic rules then and only then should we raise the speed limits.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More Clark Immigration Hassles

 Interesting information from Harry the Horse:

Updated information pertaining to the harassment of Filipina tourists wanting to exit the country from the DMIA.  The actions of the Immigration officials at the DMIA are beginning to draw the attention of various government agencies.  We hope that anyone who has been denied travel out of the DMIA because of profiling please provide the dates and details to Harry the Horse.  The following was provided by the Regional Director of Tourism, Central Luzon.
Harry, Upon interview with a BID immigration officer and based on my research work (www.dfa.gov.ph and cfo.gov.ph), here is one particular provision in the immigration law that subjects Filipino tourists / temporary visitor’s visa to PRIMARY and SECONDARY inspection. The conduct of secondary inspection makes it difficult for Filipino tourists (especially women) to clear immigration lines. The reason? It’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. Please take note of the provisions on “partners or spouses / fiancees” meeting their spouse abroad” (CFO clearance) and “tourists / temporary visitors” (capacity to travel / affidavit of support).
Here it is:
GUIDELINES ON DEPARTURE FORMALITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL-BOUND PASSENGERS IN ALL AIRPORTS AND SEAPORTS IN THE COUNTRY
        Pursuant to Republic Act No. 9208, otherwise known as the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003”, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, Republic Act No. 8042, otherwise known as the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995”, as amended by Republic Act No. 10022 and other related laws, the following guidelines, providing for definite parameters in the strict enforcement of immigration departure formalities intended for the prevention of trafficking in persons, illegal recruitment, and other related offenses, are hereby promulgated for strict implementation/compliance by all concerned:
  • I. TOURIST TRAVELERS
       A traveler intending to go abroad with a tourist/temporary visitor’s visa shall be subjected to:
1. Primary Inspection
During primary inspection, the following documents shall be required from a traveler:
  • a)  Passport
  • b)  Visa when required
  • c)  Roundtrip Ticket
2. Secondary Inspection
2.1 The Bureau of Immigration shall conduct a secondary inspection of a traveler, when deemed necessary, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment and other related offenses, through the assessment of the following circumstances:
  • a)  Age
  • b)  Educational attainment
  • c)  Financial capability to travel
  • i. If not financially capable to travel, an authenticated affidavit of support, indicating therein the relationship within the 4th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, together with the supporting documents, may be entertained; and
  • ii. An affidavit of undertaking/ guaranty may likewise be entertained.
2.2 Any passenger/traveler who will be subjected for secondary inspection shall be required to accomplish the Bureau of Immigration Border Control Questionnaire (BCQ) to be furnished by the Immigration Officer.
2.3 However, the following shall automatically be subjected to secondary inspection:
  • a) Travelers without financial capacity to travel escorted/accompanied by a foreigner who is not related;
  • b) Minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without the required travel clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);
  • c) Repatriated irregular workers, in which case, travel may not be allowed without the clearance from the IACAT (generate data);
  • d) Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate;
  • e) Passengers traveling to counties with existing deployment bans, alert levels and travel advisories and those in possession of a visas to the said countries; and
  • f) Passengers who stayed abroad for more than one (1) year during a previous departure from the country as a tourist/temporary visitor, intending to depart for the second and/or subsequent time.
2.4 Clarificatory questions may be propounded relating to the above-mentioned documents/purpose by the Bureau of Immigration.
2.5 A traveler found to be misrepresenting the purpose of his/her travel as tourist shall not be cleared for departure.


Ronaldo “Ronnie” Tiotuico
Regional Director
Department of Tourism – Central Luzon
Paskuhan Village, City of San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines
Website: www.visitmyphilippines.com

Prisca, Based on the reporting of Jim D, the issue on profiling / offloading by the Bureau of Immigration is beginning to be a pain in the neck. The same issue will have an adverse impact on your operation as travel agents. Imagine a tour operator issuing tickets to passengers only to find out they are offloaded at the airport under the pretext of protecting the rights of women against human rights violations(human trafficking, abuse, etc).
Under the law, all contract workers are to show overseas employment certificate from POEA. BUT if an individual is on a VISIT or FIANCEE / DEPENDENT / SPOUSE status (or training, foreign residence, student and business), he or she is required to register with the Commission on Filipino Overseas and attend a 2-hour pre-departure orientation seminar.
And so, I have decided to call a meeting of key members of PATS and ATTAP on May 14, 2012, 4:00 p.m. at Marlim Mansions Hotel (coffee shop) to thresh out these issues on profiling and offloading. May I advise the two presidents (Prica and Gilda) to advise their members to come to the meeting. I will try to invite the Immigration officer in Clark to this meeting.
Regards,
Dir T
cc: Jim D / PATS / ATTAP
Ronaldo “Ronnie” Tiotuico
Regional Director
Department of Tourism – Central Luzon

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Harbor Point is a Watershed Establishment for Subic


I have lived in Subic a fairly long time - more than a decade - and I have come to accept that it is generally an acquired taste. Most of the restaurants are mediocre, as are the beaches and the tourist attractions. The old theater at Times Square is mediocre, except when they turn off the aircon, then it has a funky smell that gives it a lower grade. The quirky "duty free shops" generally sell nearly expired grocery items from the US. Subic has plenty of warts but it grows on you. I have learned to love the place and scout the many things about the area that are enjoyable and of good quality. With some trepidation, I recently took a walk through Harbor Point, the new Ayala Mall. I was expecting to see something like SM Olongapo, which is kind of a crappy version of an SM Mall in Angeles or Manila. Harbor Point is nothing like that. It less than half complete but you can already see that it is a world class mall that is going to change the landscape of Subic. It appears to have more high end restaurants - quite a bit more - than Marquees Mall, the Ayala Mall in Angeles. The theaters look like they are going to be top notch. The children's play places are those with the elaborate jungle themes and tree houses. They have the high-end pay bathrooms (10 pesos) that are like a bathroom in a five star hotel lobby. When the new US defense contractor that has signed on to service US Navy ships gets into gear, and we start seeing a lot of sailors wandering around Subic, this mall is going to be a big attraction. The tourists who don't want to go to Ocean Adventure and are finished walking along the Boardwalk in 15 minutes now have another option. And for those of us who live in Subic, this is a whole new ball game. I love driving across town trying to find a decent meal, and taking my kids to buy pirated DVDs on Magsaysay, and spending an hour trying to find a pair of sneakers that fit, and doing all the other stuff that gives Subic its charm. But I also won't mind going to a world class mall, having a nice meal in a comfortable environment, seeing a movie in a modern theater and being able to pick up something that I need on the way out.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Is Subic A Smuggler's Haven?

From Asia Sentinel:

Philippines Free Trade Zones a Smuggling Haven Print
Written by Our Correspondent   
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
 

Designed for assembly and re-export, instead they become efficient inland transshipment points
Designed for assembly and re-export, instead they become efficient inland transshipment points
Designed for assembly and re-export, instead they become efficient inland transshipment points
For months President Benigno S. Aquino III has been taking his war against corruption – so far about the only issue on which he gets high marks – against yet another foe, smugglers who use the country’s free trade zones as landing bases for their illicit goods.

So far, however, his war doesn’t seem to have had a lot of impact, at least not yet. In August last year, he appointed Rozzano Rufino Biazon as customs commissioner and former Army Brigadier General Danilo Lim – who was jailed for seven years for involvement in plots to overthrow two of his predecessors – as his deputy to clean out corruption at the Bureau of Customs and boost revenue collection.

While the customs agency has been filing smuggling cases under its continuing name-and-shame campaign, with the catchy name “Run After the Smugglers,” or RATS, observers say that many of the country’s plethora of special economic zones, which number about 200, continue to be smuggling havens.

Established under legislation passed in 1995 as a kind of magic lantern to create jobs, the zones have proliferated across the island country, including industrial estates, export processing zones and free trade zones of all kinds. Theoretically they are areas in which multinationals establish assembly plants establishing factories for the manufacture and re-export finished goods without the intervention of the customs authorities.

The zones are designed to provide assembly jobs for workers, and indeed they have done so. Subic Bay, the vast former US Navy base that was turned over to the Philippine government along with Clark Air Base in 1991 and 1992, numbers nearly 90,000 workers. While many such as the Mactan Export Processing Zone in Cebu get high marks, others face problems.

The trouble with far too many of the Philippines’ export processing zones is that far too many of the goods that land stay in the country instead of being reprocessed and re-exported. The zones have few or no taxes and no customs officials, meaning smugglers can land their goods tax-free and either pay off officials on their way out of the zones or hold them in warehouses until they can slip them past authorities.

What makes the zones even more popular with smugglers is that in addition, business processes are streamlined to attract foreign direct investment and ideally have modern infrastructure so that goods can be moved efficiently without facing the Philippines’ crumbling and overstressed infrastructure. Incentives for the operators include zero duty on capital equipment, spare parts and accessories, and exemption from all taxes. They are required to pay 5 percent of their gross income to the national government.

The biggest of these is Subic, which featured US$1.3 billion worth of airport and ship repair facilities – and 4 billion barrels of potential oil storage, the largest such storage facility in the country. Consequently, witnesses say, the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway at night is clogged with scores of oil tankers, some of them bearing the liveries of major corporations as well as more nondescript tankers, filling up with fuel that can be imported free into the duty-free zone.

The problems at Subic and Clark began almost immediately after the bases were handed back to the Philippine government.

“For operators in the Clark and Subic free port zones,” according to a report by the Manila-based country-risk firm Pacific Strategies and Investments, “a duty free license is seen by many as a ‘license to smuggle’. Literally without exception, the major players in the industry have all been implicated or investigated in smuggling controversies.”

Government officials have repeatedly gone after duty-free operators at Subic, a vast base geographically as big as the entire country of Singapore, and largely porous to the point where authorities are basically powerless to stop smuggling – if they wanted to, since the customs authorities in the Philippines have come under considerable fire for corruption.

Along with everything from chocolates to cigarettes, vehicle smuggling has been a major problem in Subic – although far from the only one -- with large-scale operators buying up huge numbers of second-hand vehicles in Japan, Korea and other countries, importing them into Subic and smuggling them out. According to one report, “thousands of vehicles, trucks and other equipment can be seen covering vast tracts of the free port.”

There’s one problem, the Japanese* drive on the left side of the road, meaning their steering wheels are on the right. The operators obtain conversion kits to convert them to left-hand drive on Subic, then sell them on the market. “These vehicles have figured in devastating accidents in recent years. When a conversion fails, the vehicles often suffer simultaneous loss of brakes and steering,” the PSA report notes.

Aquino, in a February press conference, said oil smuggling costs the government an estimated P40 billion (US$937 million) in annual revenues, And, he said, that’s only an estimate. That kind of money, he said, could fund the construction of 218,000 low-cost housing units, or half of the total housing units needed for informal settlers – and that’s just for oil. He called attention to rice smuggling as well.

Neil Cruz, in an op-ed article in the Philippine Daily Enquirer last December, lamented that sugar, frozen meat, garlic, onions, carrots, broccoli and other vegetables also are smuggled into the country at such a scale that fishermen, hog and beef and rice and vegetable farmers are being driven out of business and that their children are being forced to join the army of Filipino overseas workers, which number nearly a tenth of the population.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012