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Monday, January 25, 2016


Manila Bulletin reports about a serious diplomatic “faux pas” that was apparently committed by a Bureau of Customs (BOC) examiner at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after he subjected to an unauthorized examination the diplomatic pouches consigned to the Japanese Embassy in Manila containing among others, the “sake” (Japanese wine) to be used for the welcome reception in honor of Their Majesties Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko who are scheduled to arrive in the country for a five-day state visit tomorrow.

The blunder, supposedly committed last month by NAIA Customs Examiner Pompeo Manalo who is assigned at the Pair Cargo Customs Bonded Warehouse in Pasay City, has prompted the office of Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina to order the NAIA-BOC District Office to undertake a probe on the said incident.
Example of diplomatic pouch. CREDIT TO THE WEB OWNER. 
Image from generated Google Search.
A diplomatic pouch is any property identified and sealed package, pouch, bag, or other container that is used to transport official correspondence, documents, and other articles intended for official use of embassies, consulates, and the offices of public international organizations, among others.

In accordance with Article 27.3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), properly designated diplomatic pouches “shall not be opened or detained.”

Under the same Convention, any search or inspection of a properly labeled diplomatic pouch constitutes a “serious breach.” In fact, international law does not even set any limits on the permissible size, weight and quantity of diplomatic pouches, it was learned.

Aside from the bottles of sake, which will be used at a reception to be hosted by the Japanese Ambassador to Manila in honor of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on the evening of January 28, the said diplomatic pouches also reportedly contained several official items of the Japanese Embassy and a photo album collection of President Benigno Aquino III and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It was not known if the Japanese Embassy has lodged a formal protest regarding the incident but a well-placed BOC source said the Embassy was “very disappointed” about the unwarranted examination of their cargo.

This sentiment was reportedly expressed in a text message sent to the office of Commissioner Lina.
“This is the first time that it happened to them so the Embassy was very disappointed,” a source at the Customs told the Manila Bulletin.
The Emperor and Empress of Japan. CREDIT TO THE WEB OWNER. Image from generated Google Search.

Sources said a staff at the Japanese Embassy who was present during the incident reportedly tried to dissuade Manalo from opening the pouches as they were already covered by a certificate from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and other relevant documentation necessitated for the release.

According to DFA Spokesperson Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, aside from the DFA certificate, the other requirement needed for a cargo to be designated as a diplomatic pouch is a Customs clearance.

When asked by his superiors at the BOC-NAIA about the incident, Manalo reportedly claimed that he was merely acting on orders of his immediate boss Emily Balatbat, chief of the BOC Composite Unit at the Pair Cargo.

However, a Customs functionary who is privy to the incident dismissed Manalo’s claim that he merely acted on orders of his superiors. “Customs examiners and appraisers are aware of the standard procedure in handling diplomatic pouches,” the source explained.

The same source insisted that aside from its diplomatic nature, no examination is warranted for that particular cargo since “there was no prior alert, no extraordinary event or reason to justify the examination.”
As an offshoot, Lina ordered Balatbat to explain in writing as to how and why the embarrassing incident happened.
It was learned that the diplomatic pouch was later released.
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