Beware of balikbayan box companies vowing no delays

By Joel P. Longares

I’VE SEEN it many times before.

In my more than 22 years as a cargo forwarder, I’ve seen many upstart cargo companies making incredible promises to customers that they couldn’t keep. In their rush to get a big share of the market, many of them offered unbelievably low prices and promised to deliver customers’ balikbayan boxes on time and in perfect condition. Almost all of them have either folded up and are being sued by customers for various reasons, including missing items inside their boxes and boxes not being delivered at all.

What happened was that because their prices were so low, many of these companies had to cut corners to make a profit and entrust their boxes to consolidators and other third party service providers. The result: delayed deliveries, tampered boxes, stolen items, etc.

Worse, some of these companies ended up with no money to pay their customs brokers and handlers in the Philippines. The boxes ended up rotting in customs warehouses and later auctioned by the government. Kawawa naman ang mga nagpadala ng kahon.

And now some upstart cargo companies are making another ridiculous promise – that balikbayan boxes entrusted to them would be delivered without any delay, just like before when conditions were ideal and boxes could be delivered to beneficiaries in Metro Manila for as fast as 24 to 30 days.

Beware of these companies. Mag-ingat po tayo sa mga pangakong hindi naman kayang gampanan. Gusto lang nilang makuha ang inyong negosyo.

Since early last month, the Philippine American Shippers Association, the organization of Filipino cargo forwarders in the United States that I helped found, has been making balikbayan box senders aware that conditions beyond our control in the US and in the Philippines have made it virtually impossible to deliver boxes as fast as before and that we just have to live with the fact that delivery of boxes would be delayed for many more months or years to come, depending on how US and Philippine authorities would solve the problem.

Under the current circumstances, I must repeat, the delivery of boxes to Metro Manila would take at least 40 to 45 days and to faraway provinces, as much as 60 to 75 days.

Let me explain again why delivery of boxes are delayed.

First, there is the issue of inspections by the Department of Homeland Security. Every container that passes through US ports are now subject to physical inspection by DHS contractors, resulting in two- to three-week delay because the container has to await the next ship departure which could be in one or two weeks.

I expect these inspections to continue for a long time, so we have to live with it. Let’s just consider the inspections part of the shipping process. Bahagi na ng proseso kaya tanggapin na lang muna natin.

Heavily congested Port of Manila

Even after the container passes inspection and the papers processed in Philippine ports, it would still have to wait a few more days before it could be taken out of the customs area because of the congestion in the ports caused by the truck bans imposed by both the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Manila city government.

The truck bans effectively extended the trucks’ turnaround time from just one day to three days, resulting in huge backlog and congestion in the Port of Manila (POM), the Manila International Container Port (MICP), and the Subic and Batangas ports. Dahil dito, nakatambay sa container terminals ang mga kahon nang kung minsan isa hanggang dalawang lingo.

The problems of port congestion and the truck ban have alarmed many businessmen and the senators that the Senate is now going to conduct a hearing on the matter.

Senators Francis Escudero and Bam Aquino have filed separate resolutions calling for an investigation of the port congestion in Philippine ports, particularly in the MICT and POM, to avert a potential economic crisis.

Senator Escudero noted that after the city government of Manila decreed a daytime truck ban to ease traffic jams in the city, empty container vans owned by shipping lines occupied 50 percent of the container yards, which caused the congestion. Many local and international vessels are unable to dock and unload their cargoes in the MICP and the POM, prompting major shipping lines to boycott the city ports.

“It is time for the Senate to step in to abate this looming crisis. It is already causing an economic backlash at costs we cannot afford. Look at the spoilage of perishable goods, the unavailability of raw materials, business losses in the import and export industries, and idled factories,” Escudero said. “These are more than enough to clog the wheels of our economic engine.”

Senator Aquino, on the other hand, said he is worried the port congestion would have a negative effect on the prices of commodities and on the operations of local businesses, importers, and exporters.

I could not agree with these two senators more. It is not coincidental that following the truck ban and the resulting port congestion, prices of commodities have spiked and the inflation rate has reached the 4 to 5 percent level. Even international economic experts have lowered growth forecasts for the Philippine economy because of, among others, the port congestion and Metro Manila’s worsening traffic situation.

Based on these conditions, I can’t see how any cargo forwarder can claim to be able to deliver balikbayan boxes without any delay. If the big trading companies and major cargo forwarders couldn’t get their goods delivered on time because of the port congestion and truck bans, I don’t see how a small upstart can do it. Hindi pa kasama diyan ang two-to-three-week delay dahil sa DHS inspections sa US.

Thousands of balikbayan box senders have already been victimized by cargo companies who promised them everything and came up with nothing. Mag-ingat na lang sana tayo.