The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has vowed to pursue the implementation of the digital registration and monitoring of container vans despite opposition from shipping lines and other companies.
In a statement, PPA General Manager Jay Daniel Santiago said they could not abandon the implementation of the Trusted Operator Program-Container Registry and Monitoring System (TOP-CRMS) since it is part of the digitalization commitment of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. in a bid to rationalize port operations and prevent smuggling.
TOP-CRMS uses technology for up-to-date container tracking allowing customers, carriers, freight forwarders, and shippers to access the status of their cargoes and containers.
It is expected to keep a registry and monitor all inbound shipping containers that will track every foreign-owned container’s location and movement using the industry- accepted data interchange formats through encrypted channels.
Santiago said the digitization program aims to address the decades-long issues of hefty container deposits and poorly managed empty containers that congest the ports. The streamlining of transactions leads to reduced logistics costs that trickle down to the benefit of Filipinos.
The TOP-CRMS was prescribed under PPA Administrative Order (AO) 04-2021, which the PPA Board had unanimously approved under the previous administration.
The order prescribes that the controversial use of container deposits imposed by shipping lines, which can go up to tens or even hundreds of thousands per container and could take months to reclaim, would essentially be reduced to P980 container insurance per container.
In addition, foreign containers would be registered in the TOP-CRMS for real-time tracking, allowing PPA to monitor the traffic of inbound and outbound containers, per the agency's mandate.
Addressing the problems of empty containers and port congestion, TOP-CRMS would ensure that empty containers are re-exported within the pre-existing dwell time of 90 days lest they be subject to duties and taxable by the Bureau of Customs (BoC).
The program, however, hit a snag after the PPA Board decided to hold the implementation. The PPA Board is comprised of Cabinet members.
"The majority of the PPA Board decided to study the TOP-CRMS continuously. To sum up, there will be delays in implementing the TOP-CRMS. But on the part of the PPA, we will continue to improve the system and focus on the regulatory impact assessment of the Anti-Red Tape Authority. Despite the board members' appeal for further study, we are currently in the middle of ARTA's evaluation," said Santiago.
But he assured the public the PPA leadership remains committed to implementing the TOP-CRMS, which has far-reaching benefits to the public, including lowering the cost of importations, lessening prices of imported commodities, and helping in the government's anti-smuggling drive.
He expressed confidence that agency secretaries comprising the Board will be enlightened on the benefits of the digitalization push.
The decision of indefinite deferral came amidst protests from shipping lines and big business groups against the digitization program, but to the detriment of the truckers and brokers who have voiced their support for the implementation of TOP-CRMS.
The Chamber of Customers Brokers Inc. (CBBI), an association of brokers with over 14,000 members, has been vocal in supporting the long overdue system shake-up.
"The PPA project is a blessing and not a curse. The ability to track your cargo in real-time up to the return of the empty containers is an added value to Customs Brokers and Importers," CBBI President Adones Carmona said.
"The decision to indefinitely put on hold the implementation of TOP-CRMS is disheartening on the side of the Customs Brokers, who deeply thought of the resolution to end the problem in Container Deposits and return of empty containers through the initiative of PPA to the point of commending the agency by flexing its muscle to resolve the two-decade-long challenges for the practicing members of the profession," Carmona said.
According to Santiago, the real-time monitoring of cargoes will provide the PPA accurate information of their content, volume, value, and whereabouts.
These information could be shared to concerned government agencies, including the Philippine National Police, the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, and others to augment their respective mandate in curbing smuggling, revenue collection efforts, border protection and others.
“We are not promising that the TOP-CRMS is a complete solution to all these problems. We will never promise that. What we are saying is the problem of smuggling and other issues that may originate from the ports, is a whole-of-government approach. Concerned government agencies, should sit down together, talk, and share information to achieve our common goals and mandates,” Santiago said.