Our ongoing experience with the big move, specifically with regards to the used Toyota minivan that we want to take with us, is giving us a foretaste of how it is like to do business in our homeland. I know that the Philippines has one of the lowest scores on the economic freedom index, but knowing that score alone is quite different from knowing the specifics of why that score is low.
At one point this past week, we changed our minds and decided not to take the minivan with us. Our shipper instructed us to get a definite ruling from the
Bureau of Import Services, and so we called the consulate in San Francisco to ask about the procedure for getting such ruling. The person on the phone told me that the consulate’s role in this process is only to notarize the application. He asked me the specifics of the minivan, but could not tell me how I can obtain the form I needed to fill out, except to say that it’s available from the Bureau of Import Services. He did advise us that, given the amount of tariff we would be paying and the trouble involved, it did not make sense that I was importing a non-luxury minivan. Why not buy a Mercedes Benz or a Lexus? I told him I did not want to have to spend the money, and all I’m after is saving more money compared to selling the minivan here in the U.S. and then buying another used minivan in Cebu.
"You will not be saving money," he warned me.
"Why not?" I asked.
"You will have to pay 500,000 Pesos." (This amount is more than $10,000 at current exchange rates. Our 2000 Sienna cost us about $7,000 last May.)
"Shoudn’t that depend on the price of the minivan I am taking in?"
"No. You pay the same amount no matter what kind or brand of car you import."
The conversation discouraged us so much that we changed our minds: we would not take any car with us. I changed my mind again when I received a text message from one of Eureka’s relatives. She wrote that she knew about returning nationals who have a taken a used car with them, and that it was definitely OK to take a car with us.
I did more research on the Internet. I found the import form required by the Bureau of Import Services here. I also found this news item about an executive order issued in 2002 that bans the importation of used cars. The ban itself is unclear and appears to be enforced inconsistently. (It cannot be applied consistently because the Senate opposed it, and a Supreme Court ruling made it even more muddled.) Nevertheless, all the shippers I have talked to indicate that the ban does not apply to used cars taken in by returning nationals like me. What we really need to know is how much we have to pay in order to come to a definite decision. We don’t have much time because if we decide too late to leave the car, we won’t have enough time to sell it. I will leave for San Francisco this week just to have the importation form notarized. I will then send the form to Manila where our shipper/broker will have it processed at the Bureau of Import Services. This process should allow us finally to determine how much taxes we have to pay. If it is too high, we can still decide to leave the minivan and sell it.
It’s not too bad. At least there is an established process for returning families. As for the ban on importation of used cars, yes it is still unresolved; but the reason why it is yet unresolved is because the Philippines is a working democracy. We Pinoys can make it better, but it would require changing the core principles behind our constitution, and that would be very difficult. For now we can only be satisfied with the admonition that democracy is always messy.