PORT FOLIO Column: Ramon Cuyco Column
PORT FOLIO

THE CUSTOMS CHIEF AND THE GHOSTING OF A SHIP

Part I

Oct 11, 2022, 12:07 AM
Ramon Cuyco

Ramon Cuyco

Columnist

The Internet is teeming with narratives on what ghosting means. And here’s one from Wendy Rose Gould: “The word ‘ghosting’ gained popularity long before [2017] via ‘90s hip-hop, often in the sense of escaping,” ascribing the quote to Bree Jenkins, a dating coach in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Gould said that “though a new term, the act of ghosting existed well before the digital age.” Gould quoted Jenkins as having said that "[g]hosting used to be leaving a person and moving away or not leaving [them with] your contact information—its earlier origins are even the simple act of leaving a party or social gathering without notice and goodbyes.”

Against this backdrop, a vessel under the legal custody of either the BOC—or the PCG, may have “ghosted” so many government officials while docked at the fishing port of Navotas. And this disappearing act had virtually shamed the state agents for not knowing what to do with the “ghosting” of a behemoth that evaporated into thin air with nary a cross-eyed shred of a trace.

The following are the details of this “ghostly” act.

On January 28, 2015, MT Rehobot, an Indonesian-flagged tanker loaded with 1,100 tons of industrial diesel fuel was reportedly hijacked off Northern Sulawesi in Indonesia. Almost a month later, February 23, 2015, this vessel was found by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) “aground and abandoned” off Mati City, in Davao Oriental province.

The vessel’s highly dutiable cargo had been siphoned off, and some of its valuable items reportedly gone too. The PCG also said that the vessel was in dilapidated condition.

Note, however, that when the PCG found the vessel tanker, it was just a month after it was reported hijacked off the coast of Northern Sulawesi. Methinks, it was too fast a rate of deterioration from its original seaworthy condition—if indeed it were really dilapidated. Some nagging questions though are unavoidable about the fast state of dilapidation.

On January28, 2019—exactly four years from the date of hijacking, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) was informed that MT Rehobot was docked at Pier 5, Market 3, Navotas Fish Port. Taking cognizance of the vessel, the BOC issued a Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) and ordered the forfeiture of the ship—thus, BOC effectively became the vessel’s custodian.

After over a year of custody of the vessel, the BOC received a report from PCG dated February 11, 2020, that MT Rehobot “disappeared” from its berthing site in Navotas Fish Port.

“Despite earnest efforts to locate it, the same is yet to be found,” said former Customs chief, Rey Leonardo Guerrero—former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, in his report to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Guerrero formed an MT Rehobot Fact-Finding Committee (FFC) to get to the bottom of the “disappearing act.” The FFC was headed by a Customs Deputy Commissioner who supervises the Bureau’s enforcement and security group, and co-chaired by an Assistant Commissioner who handles the Bureau’s post-entry audit group—both lawyers. The FCC also included the former Director of the Enforcement and Security Service (ESS)—now the Customs Commissioner, Yogi Ruiz—the Bureau’s unit tasked to secure or underguard dutiable goods and properties under custody of the BOC. The FFC subpoenaed 38 persons regarding the “ghosting” controversy.

One puzzling point is why MT Rehobot was relocated from Mati City in Mindanao to the Navotas Fish Port in Luzon—hundreds of nautical miles away instead of being held in custody by the nearest BOC collection district.

Questions like who ordered/ authorized its relocation, who relocated and paid for the relocation, who contracted the relocation services and how the services were procured and if the vessel was self-propelled when it was relocated to Luzon, need answers.

During its “ghosting” in Navotas Fish Port, which office had jurisdiction over the res..

The former Customs Chief referred this case to the country’s premier investigation agency. What has the current Customs Chief done to pursue this “ghosting” of a “dilapidated” ship?


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