Joint operatives of the Bureau of Customs-Intelligence and Investigation Service (BOC-CIIS) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) simultaneously raided on Friday warehouses of raw materials for cigarettes in Bulacan and Pangasinan while criminal charges were filed against the owners of an illicit depot in Davao where P50 million worth of fake cigarettes was seized.
Seized by the raiding team were hundreds of boxes and sacks of tobacco, cigarette filters, cigarette paper, cigarette label, fake Internal Revenue seal, plastic wrappers, aluminum foils and sealants, among others, as well as several delivery trucks and private cars.
The raw materials were used for the manufacture of fake cigarette products like Marvels, Mighty, La Reyna Mascada, Marlboro, Philip Morris, Jackpot and Skag Fortune, which are originally produced by Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Corp.
Several cartons of finished cigarette products were also recovered.
The warehouses, owned by a certain Tony Li, were located at Barangay Santa Rosa II in Marilao, Bulacan. But the owner or any representative was not around during the raid.
The Customs raiding team was armed with a Letter of Authority signed by Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and was acting on a formal complaint filed by Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC) for violation of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Law.
Under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), the commissioner or any Customs officer authorized by the commissioner, may demand evidence of payment of duties and taxes on imported goods openly for sale or kept in storage.
The same law allows any person exercising police authority, at any time, to enter, pass through and search any land, enclosure, warehouse, store, building or structure not principally used as dwelling house.
PMFTC representative Solomon Dador Jr., a specialist in illicit trade and neutral products, confirmed that all the raw materials inside the warehouse were fake.
Dador disclosed that a simultaneous raid was also conducted at the syndicate’s manufacturing plant in Villasis, Pangasinan where a single plant with four machines can produce 125,000 packs of cigarettes a day, enough to supply the entire province.
He said the government is losing P3.6 million a day or P108 million a month in unpaid duties and taxes from production of fake cigarettes.
Meanwhile, Mighty Corporation, a wholly-owned Filipino tobacco manufacturer, has filed criminal charges against two businessmen engaged in illicit trade after alert Customs authorities seized more than P50 million worth of contraband cigarettes stored in six different warehouses in Davao City as fraudsters and smugglers continuously undercut the government in taxes and duties.
Confiscated were 1,262,000 contraband cigarette packs, making the shipment one of the biggest hauls by local authorities since the implementation of the sin tax law in 2013.
The warehouses belonged to two companies – HBTT Marketing and JCL – owned by a certain Yuequn Shi and Peter Chua, respectively.
The HBTT warehouses also yielded P12 million worth of fake cigarette products in a raid last year.
Shi and Chua remain at large, however.
The bulk of the contraband shipments of various cigarette brands is believed to have been smuggled from China.
The Customs commissioner ordered the operation after confirmed reports of smuggling activities in Davao City and nearby provinces.
Faeldon earlier said fake cigarettes flood the market because of enticing profit margins that unscrupulous businessmen offer to retailers. He warned that everybody involved in the smuggling, manufacturing, distribution and sale of any counterfeit product will not be spared once caught.
The recent raid is part of continuous stringent operations jointly pursued by the BOC, Bureau of Internal Revenue, National Bureau of Investigation and the police to plug leakages in the sin tax law since its implementation three years ago.
WITH JAIME G. AQUINO