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LTO to attend Congress’ smuggling inquiry

First Posted 12:48:00 02/06/2008

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CEBU CITY, Philippines - Despite changes in the leadership at the House of Representatives, its inquiry into the alleged rampant car smuggling in Cebu will push through Wednesday.

Camiguin Representative Pedro Romualdo, chairman of the committee on good governance, said Tuesday the House would listen to the testimonies of government officials on reports that car smuggling thrives in Cebu.

Romualdo said officials from the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG), Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) will be summoned.

But Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales begged off from attending Wednesday?s hearing due to prior commitments, said Romualdo.

Morales has been under fire for the alleged illegal importation of luxury vehicles through the ports of Cebu.

?Let us give him (Morales) the benefit of the doubt. I learned that he begged off last night and we hope that there will be officials from the BOC who will attend on his behalf and answer questions from the committee,? Romualdo said.

He said the committee was set to confront Morales on Wednesday on the questionable certificate of payments and undervaluation of imported goods such as high-end cars.

Sources at the BOC-Cebu said that District Collector Ricardo Belmonte will attend Wednesday?s hearing to shed light on the questionable importation of luxury cars such as the Ferrari allegedly owned by television host Willie Revillame.

Undersecretary Antonio Villar, PASG head, and LTO chief Albert Suansing, are also expected to testify on the questionable registration of high-end imported cars that were allegedly smuggled in Cebu.

Suansing also directed LTO-7 director Raul Aguilos, LTO-Cebu City registration head Alita Pulga and LTO-8 director Alex Leyson to attend the hearing.

Leyson, formerly LTO-7 regional director, said he is ready to face the committee.

He said he will insist that the registration of cars did not reach his office because these were processed at LTO district offices.

Leyson said he was confident that he would be cleared after the investigation.

Aguilos said he can only testify on matters that he knows since he assumed only in January after Leyson was relieved following questionable registrations of imported luxury vehicles in Cebu.

?Things that happened before I assumed here can be answered by competent officials like Director Leyson and Mrs. Pulga,? he said.

Meanwhile, party-list group Bayan Muna asked the committee on good governance to subpoena registration documents of some 40 luxury cars believed to be smuggled.

Bayan Muna Central Visayas Secretary General Armand Perez said the group has supplied Romualdo?s committee with documents that would substantiate claims that there was collusion among LTO officials in the alleged registration of smuggled vehicles.

Documents obtained by Bayan Muna from LTO?s head office showed there were 40 luxury cars originally registered in Cebu and Bohol whose plate numbers were issued by LTO National Capital Region and LTO Diliman in Quezon City, Perez said.

Of the 40 questionable car registrations ? mostly of vehicles made by Lexus, Porsche, Range Rover, BMW and Mercedes Benz ? 23 were registered in Cebu City, 15 in Toledo City, and two in Tagbilaran City.

Perez said their representatives in Congress would ask the committee on good governance to summon Pulga, former Toledo City registration head Gavino Paden, and former LTO Tagbilaran City chief Macario Geratuelas to shed light on why some luxury cars registered in Cebu bore plate numbers assigned in Manila.

Vicente Gador Jr., LTO-7 legal officer and operations chief, said they would look into the allegations raised by Bayan Muna.

Gador said they hope that the party-list group would furnish them copies of the plate numbers of the so-called 40 questionable registered luxury cars so they could verify their registration.

He also said that the LTO-7 is verifying 67 luxury cars that PASG Visayas said had questionable registration papers as well.

Of the 67 luxury cars, two that were registered in LTO-Danao City and Lapu-Lapu City showed irregularities, Gador added.

?We are looking into the referrals made by some government agencies like PASG and we will require our registration heads to explain,? he said.

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