Subic execs assail free port smuggling

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines – Zambales Representative Jeffrey Khonghun has assailed the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and port officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) here for their supposed failure to curb smuggling at the free port.

Khonghun said Korean shipbuilder Hanjin was being allowed by the SBMA and BOC to transport cargoes of imported steel bars, aggregates and scrap materials outside the free port without proper documentation.

“Contraband loaded in trucks going out of Hanjin passes through Subic town without the proper documents or proof that they have paid taxes. That is smuggling. And it has been going on for a long time,” Khonghun said.

SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia declined to comment on Khonghun’s allegation.

Khonghun’s son, Subic Mayor Jefferson Khonghun, said the SBMA and BOC are allowing Hanjin to bring steel, aggregates and scrap out of its shipyard.

“At every SBMA exit or entry point, there are BOC personnel and SBMA law enforcement personnel, except at the Hanjin gate in Subic town,” he said.

Mayor Khonghun said he had asked the BOC as early as 2011 to post guards at the Hanjin gate in his town “because we are alarmed that trucks bearing contraband go out of the shipyard and pass through our area.”

In July, Mayor Khonghun decided to set up checkpoints and at least four trucks loaded with imported steel bound for a construction site of an oil refinery in Limay, Bataan, were held by Subic police.

“The trucks did not have any documents whatsoever. We turned them over to the BOC’s Port of Subic. But after that, another 12 trucks were held at our checkpoints,” Mayor Khonghun said.

The Inquirer tried to get Hanjin’s side but representatives of the Korean shipbuilder did not issue a statement. Some of its officials, however, said another Korean company, Daelim, owned the fabricated steel bars and was responsible for their transport to Bataan.

Elpidio Jose Manuel, chief of the Port of Subic police, confirmed that Daelim owned the steel bars and that the firm had contracted Royal Cargo as its broker. Royal Cargo, however, hired Aim High Philippines Logistics for trucking services.

But Manuel said the four trucks stopped at the checkpoint by Mayor Khonghun were eventually released when Royal Cargo presented papers.

“We even accompanied the trucks to Limay under guard to make sure that these got there. Mayor Khonghun did not turn over any more cases like this to us after that,” he said.

In a telephone interview, Ramiel del Rosario, Royal Cargo manager, said all paper work was completed and taxes were paid before they transported the cargo to Bataan. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon

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