By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, Reporter

BoC expects modernization bills passed into law by year’s end

Posted on November 09, 2015

THE BUREAU of Customs (BoC) is anticipating the passage of a measure allowing upgrades to its charter by the end of the year as the country gears towards regional economic integration.

A new Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) is pending before Congress which aims to upgrade Customs systems and automate transactions in a bid to better curb smuggling while fast-tracking import procedures.

“The CMTA at the House has been approved on third reading. In the Senate, it’s drawing closer. I hope it can be finished, undergo a (bicameral conference), then be signed into law... I think it might be the President’s Christmas gift to us,” Customs Commissioner Alberto D. Lina told reporters last week in Filipino. “I think it will be smooth sailing.”

“We really need that so that we can apply it in time for the ASEAN [Integration]. We have already committed so it’s a matter of complying.”

House Bill 5525 has been passed on third reading at the House of Representatives last Oct. 9 just before they took a month-long break. It must undergo a fresh round of discussions and approval at the Senate before it can be reconciled by the two chambers and endorsed for the President’s signature.

The Tariff and Customs Code was enacted in 1978. Among the planned upgrades for the BoC include the full electronic processing of all documents, forms, and receipts, alongside streamlining methods for the examination and valuation of imports and exports.

The proposed bill also presents “simplified” Customs procedures for disposition, forfeiture and seizure of counterfeit goods, and steeper penalties for illegal shipping practices. It also seeks to adjust the de minimis or threshold value on duty-free imports to P5,000 from the outdated P10 ceiling.

The CMTA has been pending for some eight years, Mr. Lina said, and only got a much-needed push from the uproar surrounding the opening of balikbayan boxes sent by Filipinos working abroad last August.

He added, however, that the bureau is already in the process of automating its transactions, with the government expected to save up to P70 million yearly by going paperless.

“There’s no more recycling of permits so that’s how we prevent smuggling, along with other commodities,” the Customs chief also said.

But Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, is not yet certain of the CMTA’s passage by December.

“[CMTA’s passage] depends on how long debates on the budget and the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) take because these take precedence,” Mr. Angara said via text when asked about the prospects for the bill.

The Senate has yet to approve the P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016, which must be forwarded to Malacañang and signed by December to avoid a reenacted budget that would leave new programs unfunded.

The two chambers are also set to finish deliberations on the BBL, a priority measure of the administration, to meet a new Dec. 16 target passage date after prolonged delays and wavering support among legislators. Congress resumed work on Nov. 3 and will adjourn on Dec. 18 for the Christmas break.

Sessions will resume from Jan. 19 to Feb. 5, 2016 before again adjourning to give way to the campaign season for the May 9, 2016 presidential elections.