Cebu City, Philippines - Operatives on Monday seized 21 second-hand Korean-made vehicles worth P6 million at the Cebu port.
The vehicles shipped from Cagayan de Oro City had no license plates.
They were also in need of repair, an indication that they could be smuggled units, said Deputy Director Ricardo Collantes of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG).
The PASG and the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Section (CIIS) intercepted the vehicles as they were being unloaded from two inter-island vessels at Pier 5 in Cebu City.
Collantes said the used condition of the foreign cars was a telltale sign of an illegal importation.
He said imported used vehicles were usually in bad condition when brought into the country. The dealer would repair them first before selling them at a higher price.
The importation of used vehicles is banned under Executive Order 156 signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002.
Most of the units were Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) and vans such as Kia Carnival, Hyundai Starex and Kia Sportage.
Each vehicle was worth between P200,000 and P300,000, according to PASG, making the whole shipment about P6 million.
The 21 vehicles were transferred at the PASG office in Pier 6 for verification of their papers. If found to be smuggled, the units will be turned over to the Bureau of Customs.
Collantes said the PASG was tipped off about the arrival of smuggled second hand vehicles in Cebu on board two Trans-Asia vessels.
The first to arrive were 12 vehicles on board MV Asia Hong Kong, which docked at Pier 5 about 5 a.m.
Next came nine vehicles on board MV Asia China, which docked at 6:45 a.m. Both vehicles came from Cagayan de Oro although MV Asia Hong Kong passed by Tagbilaran City in Bohol before arriving in Cebu.
The PASG office is more than 200 meters from Pier 5.
?They were obviously imported vehicles. They didn't have plate numbers and they looked in need of repair,? Collantes said.
While the operation was ongoing, members of CIIS arrived and assisted in the
Two young men, who were seen escorting the vessel from Cagayan de Oro, disappeared when operatives confiscated the shipment, according to a crew member of the MV Asia China.
?Naa man nay duha ka batan-on nga sakay gikan pa sa Cagayan, kalit man lang nawa (There were two young men that boarded the vessel from Cagayan. They suddenly disappeared),? a crew member said.
A CIIS source told Cebu Daily News that the 14 vehicles were shipped to Cebu through MV Asia China, but only nine were seized.
The five others were brought back to Cagayan de Oro after the shippers were able to secure a bill of lading that allowed them to send these to Cagayan de Oro, said the source.
The vessel left Cebu at 8 p.m. on Monday.
A bill of lading is a document issued by the transport company and is used to acknowledge the receipt of a shipment of goods. The document, which is issued to a shipper, also identifies the vessel, the destination, and terms for transporting the cargo.
The CIIS personnel said they already informed counterparts in Cagayan de Oro to wait the shipment there.
Documents covering the 12 vehicles on the MV Asia Hong Kong identified the shipper as Choi Hun Pyong and the consignee as Nelson Caintapan.
Each shipment was declared to be worth P2 million. The shipper paid P140,000 in shipping fees.
Collantes of PASG said he believed that Caintapan was not a real name because consignees of smuggled vehicles would usually use fictitious names to avoid being pinned down.
He said his office would wait for parties to claim the vehicles and show proper documents.
?We will wait for anybody to show proof that this is legal,? Collantes said.
?Klaro man kaayo nga imported used cars, kay hugaw pa kaayo, naa pay mga guba, kinahanglan pa i-repair (It is clear that these are imported used cars because these are very dirty, have defects and in need of repair),? he added.
Cebu Custom District Collector Ricardo Belmonte has yet to receive a report from the PASG office.
Belmonte said that once PASG gets confirmation that these were smuggled, the vehicles would be turned over to the Bureau of Customs.
Appropriate charges would be filed against the owners of the vehicles, he added.
He said smugglers have difficulty bringing in hot cars to Cebu because Customs and other agencies are strict in implementing the EO 156 that bans the entry of second hand vehicles. /with a report Reporter Marian Codilla