Legalizing the sale of contraband

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the Business Mirror on August 6, 2008, page A6.

Last Monday, Luwaran.com, the MILF website, announced:

“In what is considered as the most significant and historic event that ever happened in the annals of the 11-year old GRP-MILF Peace Talks, the MILF has sent some 50 persons including its peace panel, secretariat, technical committee, and representatives of its nominated non-government organizations (NGOs) to the formal signing ceremony of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) in Putrajaya, Selangor, Malaysia August 25.”

Luwaran’s bulletin was published BEFORE the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the signing scheduled last Monday, 4 August 2008.

That means the MILF has psychic powers in addition to being well-armed and allied with a peace mediator that has a pending territorial dispute with the Philippines.

To digress a little, what the Gloria Arroyo administration did—inviting Malaysia to mediate peace talks with the MILF – is like Israel asking the Syrians, with whom they have a disagreement over the Golan heights, to broker their quarrel with the Palestinians.

Anyway, the MILF will have to wait a few weeks before the Arroyo administration gifts it with a quasi-state that has a “’defined territory and a system of governance suitable and acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.”

It’s worth the wait if only because, on August 25, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) will finally become like the Cagayan Export Zone (CEZ), a quasi-state where enforcing Philippine laws is optional.

“The CEZ Freeport,” according to the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), “is the creation of prominent Filipino politician/lawyer/businessman, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, a native of Cagayan now in his 80s and a powerful figure in national politics since the mid-’60s, when he allied himself with fellow Ilocano Ferdinand Marcos.” The Amcham adds, “There are legislative proposals to create other ‘free ports’ by other politicians in other remote areas.” Monkey see, monkey do.

Senators of the Republic of the Philippines want to know why four government agencies—Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Land Transportation Office, and the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group—allowed contraband from the CEZ to enter Philippine territory.

“The issue here is whether it is illegal to import a banned item,” said Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales saw it differently, “The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority has been faithful in collecting taxes and other duties for imported cars. We have no report of any car smuggling because importers are really paying their taxes.”

To Morales and the citizens of CEZ, the issue is tax evasion, not the selling of contraband. And so they argue that since contrabandistas pay taxes they are not smugglers.

Contrabandistas can continue selling banned items and government agencies will keep on eluding accountability for as long as the issue remains confused.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee should forget smuggling because, really, there is no smuggling if taxes are being paid. It should focus on the issue of contraband. That way, the contrabandistas and the government will be forced to create more imaginative ways of skirting the law.

Executive Order No. (EO) 156 bans the sale and use of imported second-hand vehicles outside Freeport zones, but it exempts “[S]pecial purpose vehicles like fire trucks, ambulances and hearses.”

Who’s to say that a BMW model Z3 or a Mercedes Benz SLC cannot fall under those exemptions?

If I drive a white Beemer or a Benz and I carry a first aid kit in the boot of the car, is it not equipped with medical equipment? And if, once in a while I drive myself or a member of my family to the hospital, does that not qualify as transportation for the injured and sick?

What if I paint the vehicle black, does it not become a hearse?  Nowhere in the EO does it say dead people have to be transported lying in a coffin. I can stuff a corpse in the car’s trunk, right?

And if I paint the car red and carry a couple of fire extinguishers …

Isn’t it easier and more creative to do the above than claim contraband can be legalized by paying duties on them?

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