P260-M in smuggled cigarettes, rice seized in Bataan
MANILA, Philippines—The Bureau of Customs (BOC) and law enforcement agents on Tuesday (Feb. 23) seized some P260 million in smuggled cigarettes and rice in Bataan province as the BOC tightened its watch on rampant illicit trade during the pandemic.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday (Feb. 24) said Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero early in the day reported that the BOC’s Limay port apprehended three trucks carrying smuggled cigarettes at three separate checkpoints in Hermosa, Limay and Orion towns in Bataan province during a night-to-dawn operation between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The illicit cigarettes bore the brands Mighty and Two Moon, while the rice were of premium Vietnam variety, the BOC said in a statement on Wednesday.
The BOC said the cigarette and rice shipments were unloaded from a mother ship that came from Vietnam and brought to another ship named LTC Yellow River, which was believed to have come from San Jose town, Oriental Mindoro province.
Guerrero told Dominguez that the captain of LTC Yellow River, which docked at Orion Dockyard in Orion, Bataan, “cannot explain the presence of cigarettes in his ship” but had shown a bill of lading for 20,000 sacks of rice.
The BOC’s enforcement and security service, Customs intelligence and investigation service, together with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard “took control of the ship and the crew,” Guerrero said.
“The importation, appearing to be consigned to Asia Pacific Rice Trading Corp., was accompanied with a fake statement of settlement of duties and taxes for the rice, and lack of tax seal for the cigarettes,” the BOC said.
The bureau said at least 50 crewmen of LCT Yellow River and workers of the trucks have already been subject to inquest for violation of Customs and other laws. It said follow-up operations and investigations are ongoing on the address listed as destination of the illegal cargo.
Illegal trade of fake and smuggled cigarettes had flourished amid the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when supply dwindled during the stringent lockdown that restricted movement of non-essential goods.
In turn, many consumers had turned to cheaper—sometimes counterfeited—alternatives amid a pandemic-induced recession.
Also, revenue officials had warned that unscrupulous traders would take advantage of recent “sin” tax hikes, which in turn were supposed to finance the universal health care (UHC) program.
This year, cigarette excise rose to P50 per pack from P45 a pack in 2020 under Republic Act (RA) No. 11346 or the tobacco tax law of 2019.
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