‘Breathing space’

Court blocks used-car import ban in Port Irene

SANTIAGO CITY–A Cagayan court on Thursday stopped the implementation of an executive order banning the importation of used cars into freeports in the country, including the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZF) in Santa Ana, Cagayan.

Judge Rolando Velasco, of the regional trial court in Aparri, Cagayan, issued a three-day temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of Executive Order No. 156, following the filing on Tuesday of a petition assailing the constitutionality of the order, according to Jaime Vicente, president of the Automotive Rebuilding Industry of Cagayan (ARIC).

The TRO ends Oct. 11. The court scheduled for Monday a hearing on whether or not the TRO would be extended for 17 more days.

But Vicente said: “This TRO gives us a breathing space for a few days. Since its issuance, our members were able to complete transactions with a number of buyers.”

Equal protection

Eleven members of ARIC filed the petition questioning the validity of EO 156 for supposedly being in violation of their constitutional right to equal protection of the law and for being a restraint on trade, Vicente said.

The petition was an apparent move from ARIC to block a directive from Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales ordering a stop to the thriving used-car trade at Port Irene, the main port operated by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) in Santa Ana.

The Office of the Solicitor General earlier issued a legal pronouncement that the recent Supreme Court ruling on Subic Bay Freeport used car importations applied also to economic zones outside of that former United States naval base.

Subsequently, Jose Mari Ponce, Ceza administrator, ordered the suspension of the approval of registration papers of imported second-hand vehicles within the zone.

As a result, Ceza port officials said they would not issue gate passes to all imported vehicles that would arrive at Port Irene, including those with clearance from the Bureau of Customs and the Land Transportation Office.

But Vicente said their business should not be considered illegal because the government allows big car manufacturers to import European, Korean and Japanese cars and sell these as whole units locally.

Pineapple and pine tree

He said his group believed that the recent Supreme Court ruling banning importation of second-hand vehicles into the Subic freeport does not apply to the car-dealing activities at CSEZF.

“The ruling (involving car importation) in Subic does not apply to us because what we questioned in that case was only a specific section of EO 156 and its applicability. In this case, we are now questioning the constitutionality of EO 156 itself,” he said.

“That case in (Subic) is a pineapple; this one is a pine tree,” he added.

The TRO was seen as a “big psychological boost” for many used car buyers who had become apprehensive about the business since the car-trading controversy at CSEZF came about middle of this year.

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