YARD utilization in Metro Manila’s two major ports may have hit bottom in May after they experienced 90% congestion in early April, with the Bureau of Customs (BoC) now expecting port activity to return to normal with the easing of the lockdown on the capital region.

According to BoC’s daily updates, yard utilization as of May 16 fell to 48.84% at the Manila International Container Port and to 66% at the Port of Manila.

“I think after we resolved the issue on potential port congestion, the current yard utilization rate is now more reflective of the state of import activities during the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) but we soon expect more normal activity in our ports as quarantine restrictions ease up,” BoC Assistant Commissioner and Spokesperson Vincent Philip C. Maronilla said via Viber over the weekend.

Congested ports in early April delayed the delivery of urgently-needed goods for the coronavirus containment effort. The congestion levels led the BoC to threaten a shutdown of the ports if shippers, hampered by the quarantine, failed to withdraw their cargoes.

Joint Administrative Order 20-01 was issued in response to the congestion and served as an ultimatum to importers remove overstaying cargoes to give way for incoming shipments, particularly those needed to contain to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, including personal protective equipment, medicine and disinfectant.

“The overall yard utilization may be low but if you get into the details some sections of the yard that cater to essential goods have a higher utilization rate.”

He said the current situation at the ports reflects the state of economic activity associated with heavily-disrupted global trade.

According to preliminary data, BoC’s collections declined 31% year on year to P15.57 billion in the first half of April, bringing the year-to-date total to P160.98 billion, running behind the pace of the P164.4 billion collected a year earlier.

The BoC’s 2020 collection target has been reduced by 30% to around P520 billion due to the grim economic outlook, weaker global trade and the slump in oil prices.

The economic team downgraded government revenue projections to P2.612 trillion from P3.137 billion collected in 2019 with economic output for the year expected to contract by 2-3.4%.

With increased expenditure due to COVID-19 relief efforts and revenue expected to fall, the budget deficit is officially projected to spike to 8.1% of gross domestic product this year, before easing to 6% next year and 5% in 2022. — Beatrice M. Laforga