So what about the BOC-Phoenix tussle?

I HAVE worked for years with Shell— which could conveniently drop either S or H in its name to allow people a better grasp of its business. And in such line of work, one learns that the fuels industry in this throttled neck of the woods is tops when it comes to tax compliance—every drop of raw crude or refined fuel product is duly taxed, why, there’s always a taxman on the watch whenever a tanker empties its hold into the jetty off a storage depot or refinery facility… I’ve seen that first-hand for stretches of time in my work stint.

I still soak in suds with top honchos of an all-Filipino oil player which does direct importation of bio-diesel from India to do bulk sales to the domestic transport and industrial sectors… and they’re as tractable as the rest of the oil players, kept under a strict watch by the ubiquitous taxman.

So one question that kept bugging us in the last few days was, “Whatever happened to Customs?” BOC went hammer-and-tongs with smuggling charges against publicly-listed firm Phoenix Petroleum Phils. Inc.  last week due to alleged non-payment of taxes of their oil importations from June 2010 to April 2011.

Say, Phoenix is a publicly-listed firm, easy to be “it” in any blame game and tamer as a scapegoat being led to the slaughter.  The smuggling
complaint comes across as unbelievable. Being a publicly-listed firm, transparency and integrity are among their main considerations. Publicly-listed firms have to disclose all their transactions for the benefit of its shareholders.

Here’s to one bird that has live up to its name, rising from the cinders after it gets torched—say, Phoenix is one of the first companies to release its financial results for 2010, it took the 211th spot among the country’s top 1,000 corporations in 2009 and declared its first quarter revenues at P6.1-billion this year, 122% higher than the P2.75-billion it made during the same period last year. Phoenix also reported a 95% increase in volume year-on-year— which means that all that traffic standstills we go through burn zillions of liters of fuel yet don’t get longer mileage, ah, such wastrel ways…

On May 5, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) a P5-billion smuggling complaint against Phoenix for putative non-payment of excise and value-added taxes (VAT), among others for several importations of various petroleum products.

Energy industry scuttlebutt has it that the complaint was rushed Wednesday night to make it to the weekly news conference last Thursday of the BIR and the BOC—the grand occasion to announce tax evasion charges to be filed against companies or individuals.

Phoenix Petroleum has vehemently denied the charges. Moreover, it is
impossible for it not to pay the proper taxes in its oil importations because the banks will not issue the company a letter of credit without them paying the right taxes. Importations especially oil products, usually involve letters of credit.

Something stinks here.

More scuttlebutt off energy industry old-timers disclosing that the anti-Phoenix campaign is being led by people closely associated with the current Customs top honcho… who has been under fire right at the start of his stint at the BOC because of alleged dishonest activities.

Too, BOC set off its charges without any communication to Phoenix
Petroleum or to any of its officials. Phoenix said they were not even furnished a copy of the alleged tax deficiency before announcing it at a press conference.

It is indeed lamentable that companies like Phoenix Petroleum are
being subjected to trial by publicity. As an old hand in the energy industry, I have to admit that Phoenix has been slowly growing as an oil player to contend with these past few years through hard work and corporate responsibility.

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