18 smuggled cars destroyed

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Bureau of Customs tore apart 18 smuggled vehicles using backhoes, but fell short of a Palace announcement that it would destroy luxury cars including a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and two Porsches.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who ordered the luxury cars destroyed as part of an anti-smuggling campaign, was supposed to witness the demolition, but did not show up due to bad weather.

At a press conference, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the luxury cars were not part of the 18 vehicles destroyed because of unresolved legal issues.

“There are legal procedures we have to follow,” Teves said.

Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales said the law allowed the bureau to destroy smuggled goods as contraband.

“Let this destruction serve as a stern warning to all unscrupulous and greedy businessmen engaged in smuggling,” Morales said.

He said yesterday’s destruction was only the first phase in an anti-smuggling campaign. He said 15 other smuggled vehicles in Clark, Pampanga, and 14 luxury vehicles in Subic were awaiting court decisions.

“We cannot destroy what we don’t own,” Morales said. “When the decision on forfeiture is final and executory, then we can order the destruction.”

Subic District Collector Marietta Zamoranos said the luxury vehicles that were seized had been forfeited in favor of the government, but appeals were still pending.

If the parties are not satisfied by the Customs decision, they may take their case to the Court of Tax Appeals, and, after that, the Supreme Court.

“That is the essence of due process and our justice system,” Zamoranos said.

“The policy right now is to destroy the smuggled cars, and it will continue unless the instruction changes,” she said.

The vehicles destroyed yesterday included three BMW X5 sports utility vehicles, a Lincoln Navigator, a Mitsubishi GTO sports car, an old-model BMW sedan, a Nissan Astro van, a Toyota Caldina, a Toyota Lucida, five Toyota Erminas, Two Toyota Grandeurs, a Nissan Serena and a Mitsubishi Mini Pajero.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Administrator Armand Arreza said his agency would propose a ban on luxury vehicle imports through the port.

Earlier, a number of congressmen had opposed the destruction of the vehicles, saying the government would be able to raise more revenue by auctioning off the smuggled cars.

But the Palace said it wanted to stop the practice of auctions in which the smugglers ended up buying back the seized vehicles.