Donations for Mindanao poor held by Customs

On May 20, 2015, two container vans of medicines and medical equipment worth $1 million, donated by Montero Medical Missions (MMM), arrived in Manila from Virginia, USA. More than a year later, the donation still sits in a Customs warehouse, and it will not be released unless the donor pays P559,435 that it can no longer pay.

According to Evelyn Mendoza of the Bureau of International Health Cooperation (BIHC) of the Department of Health, the broker, Rey Randie Guan, of Carlosa Tugado Brokerage, has pulled out the relevant documents, including the original, for some strange reasons no one knows about. Guan should be made to explain why.

Is it to facilitate or delay the release, resulting in the accumulating fees and charges that have reached more than half a million pesos, as we write? Is there a connivance between the Customs broker, on one hand, and Customs officials, on the other?

This case is just the tip of the “iceberg.” Many US Filipino doctors’ groups have reported similar complaints in the past. Is there in fact a syndicate “orchestrating” for such problems to arise? The Customs commissioner should investigate this. Should the Tugado brokerage’s license to operate be cancelled if they cannot explain?

MMM gave a similar donation in 2014 and everything went smoothly. The recipient was Adela Serra Ty Memorial Medical Center in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, which is under the supervision of the DOH. MMM had a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with then Health Secretary Enrique Ona under the DOH’s Adopt a Hospital Program. Under that MOA, the DOH would “facilitate customs clearance by shouldering the taxes and customs duties of foreign donations.”

May I ask current Health Secretary Janette Garin why she has not honored the MOA, refusing to pay the fees? Is it because it is no longer the DOH but the donor who must pay that the fees have skyrocketed to more than half a million pesos?

Equipment from Prosthesis Laboratory, which manufactures artificial limbs for the poor who cannot afford them, is worth $350,000 or a third of the donation’s total value. MMM envisions to supply prosthesis for the entire Mindanao. It is scandalous that such a noble and humanitarian endeavor is suppressed by government functionaries and protocols. How many thousands of poor people will lose the chance to have a new life by being able to walk once again? The heavens cry out for justice.

We appeal to presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to please rectify this terrible wrong against the poor people of Mindanao. They have the right to a good life as guaranteed by the Constitution.

—BERNIE V. LOPEZ, Filipino medical mission volunteer, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com

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