Miriam wants Enrile probed on Port Irene

Santiago continues her attacks against Enrile

'WHAT'S HIS ROLE?' Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago wants a Senate probe on Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's role in the importation of used vehicles in Port Irene, Cagayan. File photo by John Javellana

MANILA, Philippines – Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago is not yet done with her archenemy. 

After pushing for a Senate investigation into the alleged “brazen false claims” in the book of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Santiago is calling for another probe on Enrile.

This time, the senator wants Enrile investigated over his role in the importation of used vehicles in Port Irene in Cagayan. 

In a press statement on Thursday, February 14, Santiago said she will file a resolution to investigate the continued importation of used cars at Port Irene in defiance of a Supreme Court decision.

As part of the probe, Santiago wants to look into Enrile’s involvement and his opposition to the partial ban on the importation of used cars.

She branded as “contumacious” the operation of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Free Port (CSEZ) amid reports of continued importation of used vehicles there. The senator said this is in violation of a January 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

“Mr Enrile was the prime mover behind the CSEZ. Several years ago, he even arrogantly claimed that President Arroyo’s ban on the importation of used vehicles was unconstitutional, and with constant hubris, he also sharply criticized the Supreme Court for upholding the ban,” said Santiago.

A native of Cagayan, Enrile authored the Cagayan Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 that created the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), which runs the free port.

Santiago was referring to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report on the arrival of a shipment of more than 200 used cars and vans in Port Irene, Santa Ana town in Cagayan province.

The shipment arrived despite a January 7 Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Executive Order No 156.

EO 156 banned the importation of used vehicles except light trucks, buses and special-purpose vehicles. Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued the order in 2002.

In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the order but allowed the importation of used vehicles only through the Subic Special Economic Zone.

CEZA officials said the shipment of used vehicles had a permit issued even before the release of the high court’s January 2013 decision.

They have said though that they will not allow the vehicles to be driven out of the free port, citing the Supreme Court ruling. CEZA said it will be up to the Bureau of Customs and the Land Transportation Office to decide whether or not it should process the vehicles’ papers.

Santiago’s call for an investigation is the latest development in the war between Enrile and his critics.

The feud was sparked by Enrile’s decision to exclude Santiago and 3 other Senate critics from receiving P1.6 million in additional Senate funds last December 2012.

Santiago is also locked in a bitter rivalry with Sen Panfilo Lacson, whom she calls Enrile’s attack dog. The female senator has questioned Lacson’s sexuality.

‘What makes him so special?’

In her statement, Santiago pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled that vehicles imported from abroad “may only be stored, used or traded or exported out of Philippine territory but cannot be imported into the Philippines outside of the secured fenced-in former Subic Naval Base area.”

She said the decision effectively bars the importation of used vehicles in the Cagayan port.

“The continued importation of used cars at Port Irene constitutes an open defiance of a decision of the Supreme Court,” Santiago said.

Santiago also criticized the justification of importers for the arrival of the shipment of used cars.

“It is absurd for CEZA to claim that it could still import used vehicles for permits prior to the decision of the Supreme Court last January 7. CEZA has no authority to process import permits whether issued prior to the decision of the Court last January 7 or thereafter, since the Court already upheld the constitutionality of E.O. No. 156 as early as 2006,” Santiago said.

She added that agreeing with the justification will allow CEZA’s favored contractor to benefit from the defiance of the 2006 Supreme Court order, and will “open the floodgates for antedated import permits.”

In linking Enrile to the issue, Santiago said his actions concerning the port “seek to bolster the culture of impunity.”

“The Senate needs to investigate why everyone in the Philippines is prohibited from imported vehicles except the entity created and protected by Enrile.”

She added, “What makes him so special?” 

Enrile has yet to react to Santiago’s new barb.

‘I haven’t smuggled even a toothpick’ 

The Senate President has been linked to car smuggling in Port Irene, a charge he denies. In 2008, he also denied reports his son-in-law, James Kocher, was involved in smuggling.

Enrile was quoted as saying in 2008, “That’s my area. I don’t want anybody to smuggle there. If there will be smuggling there, that will be me but modesty aside, I haven’t smuggled even a toothpick to this country.”

Enrile has criticized EO 156 and the 2006 Supreme Court ruling affirming its constitutionality.

He said only Congress, not Malacañang, can ban any item from being imported. He said a presidential decree amending the Tariff and Customs Code does not cite used cars among banned items.

In 2008, Enrile also denied a report of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) that implied that the Cagayan Export Zone in Port Irene displaced the Subic free port as the Philippines’ entry point for imported second-hand luxury cars.

He criticized the Amcham, Ford, and General Motors and challenged them to prove smuggling in Port Irene. 

Enrile said Port Irene’s used-car importation business was legitimate, and proper taxes were paid.

“I don’t care if [they are] from Timbuktu. Nobody can threaten me in my own area. Nobody can threaten me in this country. We are not doing anything illegal. If Mr. John Forbes or Mr. Henry Co can put up a plant to provide a cheap car for the people of this country, and affordable for ordinary people like you and like many ordinary Filipinos, we will close the operation in Port Irene,” Enrile said then. – Rappler.com