Donation not sent to DSWD held at port over duties
CEBU CITY, Philippines—Twelve containers with food and used clothes for victims of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” in Leyte have been sitting idly at the Cebu International Port since these arrived in January from Belgium.
The Bureau of Customs refuses to release the shipment until all documents that would prove it is exempt from duties are completed.
The problem started when the donor, Johan De Pelsmaeker, a Rotary club member in Belgium, listed Philip Tan, Rotary International District 3860 secretary, as consignee.
Apparently, De Pelsmaeker didn’t know that for donations to be tax-free, the shipment must be consigned either directly to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or to an organization accredited by the DSWD.
While the donation may be exempt from duties, someone has to pay for stevedoring, storage and demurrage.
Tan admitted that Rotary Club is not a DSWD-accredited aid group.
He said there was no irregularity on the part of the customs bureau because it was simply following guidelines set by the Department of Finance for donations to be duty-free.
A news website on May 31 quoted De Pelsmaeker as saying that the the customs bureau is demanding payment of duties before the release of the shipment.
“Customs expects me to pay for the goods to enter the country. However, they are asking 1,000 euros per container. I don’t have that (amount of) cash,” De Pelsmaeker said in a report by the website Flanders News.be.
The report said De Pelsmaeker was not aware of the requirements for donations to be duty-exempt.
Tan said that before the donation arrived, he advised De Pelsmaeker to consign the shipment to a DSWD-accredited organization.
The advice went unheeded apparently.
Tan said a Manila-based friend of the donor came to Cebu to check on the shipment.
Tan said that for the shipment to be tax-free, he told De Pelsmaeker’s friend to look for a group that was accredited by the DSWD or to donate the shipment directly to the DSWD.
“They didn’t want to donate the shipment to the DSWD for some reason,” Tan said.
“I really do not know,” he said. “These people insist on what they want. They do not follow the law,” Tan added, referring to the donors.
Paul Alcazaren, customs deputy collector for operations at the port of Cebu, said donors must follow procedures on donations if they want their shipments exempt from duties.
He said that in the case of the shipment from Belgium, customs officials had not declared the shipment abandoned even if it had been in the container yard for more than 30 days to give the donor time to coordinate with the DSWD.
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