[PHOTO AT LEFT - Smuggled vehicles, including three BMW SUVs, are destroyed at the Naval Supply Depot in Subic, Zambales yesterday. - Photo By MANNY MARCELO]

SUBIC  BAY FREEPORT, AUGUST 17, 2007 (STAR) By Bebot Sison and Paolo Romero – Powerful blows from four backhoes tore 18 luxury vehicles worth P30 million into pieces, dramatizing what officials said was the government’s strong resolve against smugglers and their protectors in the government.

But President Arroyo herself missed the drama, which unfolded at the former Naval Supply Depot here, after her backup helicopter reportedly conked out while preparing for the Subic flight.

The wrecking party also spared the most expensive of the seized cars – a Porsche, a Lamborghini and a Ferrari – reportedly for legal reasons. The procedure lasted about two hours.

It was Mrs. Arroyo who ordered the Bureau of Customs to destroy the seized luxury vehicles. She said the seized vehicles might end up in the hands of smugglers if auctioned off.

The President was at Clark Field in Pampanga at 10 a.m. to witness the groundbreaking of the $1-billion Texas Instruments assembly plant. From there, she was scheduled to fly to Subic to lead the destruction of what was initially reported as P100 million worth of smuggled luxury cars, including Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, at 11:30 a.m.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said pending legal issues prompted the BOC to exclude the more expensive models – numbering 14 – from the list of condemned cars.

“There are legal processes we have to follow to ensure that whatever option we have, legal processes are strictly complied with,” Teves said.

“There are two options regarding abandoned vehicles. One is the normal process, which is auction, and the other is destruction,” he said. “We must make sure it is legally correct.”

Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) chief Undersecretary Antonio Villar said he had suggested that the cars be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to Gawad Kalinga or to other private charitable organizations.

Destroyed yesterday were three BMW X5s, one Lincoln Navigator model 2000, Chevy Astro van model 1999, Toyota Caldina model 1989, six 1997 model Toyota Lucida vans, 1984 model BMW 735, two Hyundai Grandeur 1988, one Nissan Serena 1989, one 1990 model GTO Mitsubishi, and one 1990 model Mitsubishi Junior Pajero.

“We feel that the deterrent effect of this (destruction) on smuggling, the benefits that will be generated on the domestic industry and the signal we want to convey that we are serious in fighting smuggling, will outweigh the initial effect of the loss of revenues (P10 million),” Teves said.

Subic Customs collector Marietta Zamoranos said 13 of the vehicles destroyed yesterday were not on the original list of the 18 condemned luxury cars.

“We made the selection of the cars to be condemned. But because we started transferring the vehicles from the warehouse at night time, with bad weather and no lights, some of these vehicles here were not in the original list,” she said.

Onlookers were disappointed to see none of the high-end European cars destroyed.

“I wanted to see how they were going to destroy a Lamborghini sports car,” one onlooker said.

Fake license plates

Fake license plates are attached to smuggled cars to enable them to leave SBMA premises, a source said.

The source, quoting reports from SBMA, said the hot cars are driven out of the free port under the very noses of port police because they have license plates.

“Just like any other law enforcement agency, LTO cannot operate inside the SBMA,” the source said.

It is the task of SBMA police to check vehicles going in and out of SBMA, although LTO also routinely checks suspicious vehicles at the Freeport.

Earlier, Villar said that some SBMA guards might be in cahoots with smugglers to whom they issue gate passes. Villar said the LTO office in Diliman, Quezon City is a favorite dumping ground for smuggled cars. – With Perseus Echeminada

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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