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SC: Used cars import ban covers RP; Palace: Only in Subic

By Leila Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:32:00 07/31/2008

Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice), Smuggling, Road Transport, Politics, Government offices & agencies

MANILA, Philippines?The Supreme Court ruling upholding Executive Order No. 156, which bans the importation of used cars, applies to Philippine territory outside the former Subic Naval Base, a court official said Wednesday.

The ruling says the Subic Bay Freeport Zone is not covered by the order, according to Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez.

Contrary to the statement of Marquez, however, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita claimed that the ban on the importation of used cars only covered Subic.

Ermita Wednesday said EO 156, issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Dec. 12, 2002, did not prohibit the entry of second-hand vehicles into other free ports such as the Cagayan Economic Zone (CEZ).

Quoting from the tribunal?s 2006 ruling, Marquez said the EO?s ?provision [on the ban] is declared valid insofar as it applies to the Philippine territory outside the presently fenced-in former Subic Naval Base Area and void with respect to its application to the secured fenced-in former Subic Naval Base Area.?

Marquez said the Supreme Court decision became final in November 2007, as shown by the entry of judgment in the case.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said last week that the Supreme Court was wrong in upholding EO 156, claiming that the directive of Ms Arroyo was unconstitutional.

Only Congress can ban the importation of used items, he argued.

Enrile made the statements in defense of the importation of used cars at Port Irene in his home province of Cagayan.

The American Chamber of Commerce in an internal draft report has claimed that the used-car import business in the Cagayan Economic Zone (CEZ) is ?illegal and contrary? to EO 156.

File a case

Marquez said it would be up to local government units and customs officials to file a case or to allow Port Irene to keep on importing used cars.

?If the people from customs and the local government units think that is within the decision of the court, that will be up to them. If they think that is prohibited, they can file the appropriate case in court on what EO 156 really says,? the court spokesperson told reporters.

He added that if officials allowed Port Irene to import used cars and nobody questioned it, then there was nothing that the court could do.

Marquez also said that if there were parties that wanted to contest the ruling of the high court on EO 156, they would have to file the appropriate pleadings in court.

Palace defends Port Irene

At his regular press conference, Ermita defended the operations of Port Irene.

He said the import ban on used vehicles did not cover the entire country.

Ermita said he was informed that the Supreme Court decision pertained to a smuggling case in Subic that was brought before the tribunal.

?(T)herefore that?s applicable to Subic, not necessarily applicable to Port Irene, especially with this finding that there?s really no smuggling, so there?s nothing to contest,? he said.

Ermita quoted an internal investigation conducted by the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) that showed no trace of smuggling at the port.

?As far as the issue of alleged reported smuggling at Port Irene, I talked with Undersecretary Bebot Villar of the PASG and he told me that he had gone there and he found out there?s no such smuggling as reported,? the executive secretary said.

?And even the American Chamber validated their own statement that there was no smuggling going on,? Ermita said.

He answered in the affirmative when asked if it was the position of Malacañang that the high court ruling on EO 156 concerned only Subic Freeport, not all the ports around the country.

?I suppose,? he said.

Ermita then categorically said that the importation of used cars into the CEZ did not violate any law.

?A collaborating memo (or) EO was issued, (EO) 418. This has something to do with the tariff on second-hand vehicles, and so this EO should be applicable to all. What is important is the spirit and the purpose of the EO and then we will have to deal with them on a case-to-case basis in all ports where the EOs issued might be acceptable,? he said.

President?s visit to CEZ

Ms Arroyo was set to visit the CEZ onb Thursday, but without media coverage.

The only event opened to media coverage was the local peace and security assembly in Tuguegarao City.

But even with PASG?s findings, Malacañang said Congress could pursue its inquiries.

?I wish I could say that it will be a closed book so that governance can move forward,? Ermita said.

Holding a copy of EO 156, the executive secretary said ?I would like to think that these (provisions) are all being complied with.?

He said the Bureau of Customs would never allow the importation of banned vehicles.

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