STA. ANA, Cagayan—Even as he denied the Aquino administration was going after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Wednesday urged President Aquino to issue a new executive order to settle once and for all whether the importation of used cars should be allowed in the country.
Biazon said the new executive order would settle the “conflict” between Executive Order No. 156, which bans the importation of used cars, and EO 418, which importers claim allows the importation.
Carrying his own camera, Biazon inspected the more than 200 cars that were stopped from leaving the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) here after the Supreme Court upheld EO 156.
“To clarify EO 156 and EO 418, probably the issuance of a new EO is the right thing to do to settle all of these legal questions,” Biazon told reporters after his inspection.
“Probably the President can issue another EO to clarify those matters and settle our national policy on whether the importation of second-hand vehicles should be allowed,” he added.
Pending such a move from the Palace, Biazon said his marching orders from Malacañang were to “uphold the Supreme Court ruling” on EO 156. Customs stopped the 200 second-hand cars from leaving Port Irene.
Is Enrile accused?
Enrile sponsored the creation of the CSEZFP but Biazon said he has not been instructed to get Enrile.
“There’s no such instruction. The last instruction that I got was to uphold the Supreme Court decision,” said Biazon.
“And I don’t think it’s necessary…. Is there any accusation against Senator Enrile?” he added.
While calling for the issuance of a new EO, Biazon said the “bigger picture” should be considered since importing second-hand vehicles was affecting local car distributors.
“It affects those who put up businesses in our country (and they have the) downstream benefit of employment. Local distributors employ more people than importers,” he said.
“So, the impact is big if they are affected by these imports. And that effect is also felt downstream,” he added.
In Manila, local distributors of luxury car brands cheered the high court decision upholding the ban on the importation of second-hand cars that have been a bane of their business for years.
“We believe that the government knows what’s best for our country,” said Robert Coyiuto, chairman of PGA Cars, which distributes Audi and Porsche cars in the country.
Maricar Parco, president of Asian Carmakers Corp., which distributes BMWs in the country, said the industry fully supported the high court’s decision upholding EO 156. “We believe that this will serve as protection to the auto industry,” she said.
“When customers buy from authorized dealers, they are assured of competitive pricing, proper vehicle emission specification and road worthiness, and most importantly, after-sales support,” Parco added.
Drop in sales
Sales of luxury car brands dropped by 14 percent to 2,067 units in 2012 from 2,400 units the previous year despite the boom in the economy.
The top two brands—BMW and Mercedes Benz—saw their sales drop by 15 percent and 31 percent, respectively, while Audi yielded the No. 3 spot to Lexus (up 40 percent) as its sales fell by 27 percent.
Biazon said that for 2012, duties and taxes from imported second-hand cars that went through the Cagayan free port amounted to only P300 million.
“So, while we may lose revenue (when stopping) these importations, we must look at the bigger picture and the bigger picture to me is that the local industries provide more downstream benefits than importers,” Biazon said.
He said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) was also seeking clarification from the Supreme Court on the effectivity of its decision on EO 156. He said the second-hand cars arrived on Jan. 8 and Jan. 15 while the high court order was dated Jan. 7.
“The (importers) received a copy of the decision in late January after the arrival of the vehicles. Again, we want to clarify at what point to consider the applicability of the decision,” Biazon said.
“But those vehicles that are still coming, definitely we will treat them using the decision,” he added.
Biazon downplayed reports of smuggling at the free port. “Please remember that mere arrival does not automatically mean that it is smuggled because this is a free-port zone,” Biazon said.
“We won’t let them out here, but if we see a legal basis for their importation, of course we are duty-bound to process them and collect the duties,” he added.
Biazon said he would formally inform the President about his recommendation for the issuance of a new EO when he submits his findings to the Palace.
Among the cars Biazon inspected at the Apollo Cagayan Trading Corp. garage inside the free port included a Boxter Porsche with a price tag of P700,000 to P800,000 and several BMW Z-3 roadsters with prices ranging from P500,000 to P800,000.
Customs Deputy Collector Leilani Alameda said the importation of second-hand cars began at Port Irene in 2005. She said their duties and taxes are computed in Manila.—With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan