The cars in Cagayan that time forgot

In the late '90s and '00s, the most common plates in Metro Manila usually began with U, W, and X. Taxis had yellow plates that began with T while government vehicles had red lettering and started with S.

But during that time, another type of plate was a dime a dozen: the B plate. These were everywhere, and what was odd was that many of the vehicles were variants or types not available in the Philippine market.

Why is that? And where did they all go?

The B-plate Sematary image


There is a place far north of Metro Manila that is quite literally a car boneyard. The telltale indicator is where it is: Cagayan.

These vehicles would have entered the country via Port Irene – a special economic zone in the Province of Cagayan. These vehicles wear the B plate as it's the designated letter assigned by the LTO's system for vehicles registered in Region 2.

But these vehicles you see in the photos never got theirs. These were just left to the elements, abandoned and forgotten. The problem is that these vehicles are used cars that originated from countries like Korea, Japan, and to some extent, the US. That's why many of the variants are not common here like a Honda Fit (the foreign equivalent of Jazz). Sometimes it's even a different body type like a 3-door Mitsubishi Pajero, or even a vehicle that isn't even in our market at all like a Toyota bB. Many of these vehicles also have the steering wheel on what would be our passenger side of the car.

What was once a thriving second-hand car import business was curtailed by the government. Responding to pressure from the local auto industry that was already reeling from the Asian Financial Crisis, the government put a ban against the importation of used vehicles. After all, isn't a converted three-door Pajero an interesting prospect for about PHP 300k at the time?

The B-plate Sematary image

The fate of the 800

I took a walk around the boneyard, and its scale is massive. I've been told that around 800 vehicles have been stuck in Port Irene waiting for their fate. These vehicles were sequestered by the government and prevented from being registered in the Philippines. If they were, these would have been "B-plate cars".

After a decade, these vehicles have not yet been properly disposed. Without a vehicle recycling infrastructure in place, the Bureau of Customs decided to just offer to local government units and various law enforcement agencies.

There were no takers.

The B-plate Sematary image

“We are working to dispose of these stranded vehicles but some agencies refused or turned down our donations due to the repair and maintenance (cost) of the cars,” said Aparri Bureau of Customs (BOC) district collector, Arienito Claveria, in a recent statement.

The locals in the area, have also echoed what Claveria said, sharing with during a November 2021 trip in the area that these vehicles were already designated to respective LGUs and government agencies. Unfortunately, none of them were taking any of the vehicles because of budget constraints, as well as the fact that the paperwork needed to register these vehicles is tedious and very time-consuming.

Naka-donate na yan sir sa mga barangay at ibang agency. Pero wala gusto kumuha kasi magastos [mag-convert] at masakit sa ulo yung pag-proseso ng papel,” said one of the locals who requested to remain anonymous.

[These vehicles were already donated to the barangays and other government agencies. But, no one wants to get them because they will be the ones who will shoulder the conversion cost from right-hand-drive to left-hand-drive and the paperwork process is a headache.]

The B-plate Sematary image

The BOC added that aside from paying for the restoration costs to make these vehicles road-worthy again, the recipient of these confiscated vehicles will be responsible for processing the paperwork with the Department of Finance and the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Will these vehicles in the graveyard be revived, Stephen King-style? Time will tell.