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CIGARETTE SMUGGLING RAMPANT IN THE COUNTRY – First of 2 parts

BY JOEL C. ESCOL, Managing Editor

The Police Regional Office 9 (PRO9) in Western Mindanao has significantly intensified its efforts to combat smuggling activities since September. Through 19 separate anti-smuggling operations, involving law enforcement agencies like the Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Police Offices, in collaboration with the Zamboanga City Police Office, they have apprehended 22 suspects and confiscated nearly P44 million worth of assorted smuggled cigarette products.

Brigadier General Bowenn Joey M. Masauding, the director of PRO9, revealed these achievements, with two cases filed against the arrested suspects, and the confiscated smuggled cigarettes handed over to the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for proper disposal.

The Zamboanga City Police Office made a significant contribution to these efforts, making over a dozen arrests and recovering around P40 million worth of smuggled cigarettes. One operation in the waters of Barangay Sinunuc, Zamboanga City, resulted in the apprehension of five crew members of MB Utoh Mat Mat, found transporting P14.8 million worth of smuggled cigarettes. Another operation involved intercepting a closed van carrying P750,000 worth of New Far Cigarettes, leading to the arrest of the van’s driver and helper for failing to provide necessary documents.

In Margosatubig, Zamboanga del Sur, two individuals were arrested for carrying approximately P140,000 worth of smuggled cigarettes. These actions are part of an intensified campaign against cigarette smuggling in Zamboanga Peninsula, in accordance with the directives of Philippine National Police Chief, General Benjamin C. Acorda Jr., and President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ R. Marcos Jr.’s call to combat smuggling and illicit trades.

General Acorda instructed all relevant police units to escalate their efforts against smuggling and the distribution of counterfeit cigarettes nationwide. The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and all 17 Police Regional Offices have been tasked with this mission, with smugglers and distributors facing criminal charges for violating Republic Act 10863 and Republic Act 10643.

The Police Regional Office 12, led by Brigadier Gen. Jimili L. Macaraeg Jr., seized approximately P6 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in Tantangan, South Cotabato, and P19.4 million worth of contraband in General Santos City. The PNP-CIDG has accounted for tens of millions worth of smuggled cigarettes across the country.

Anti-cigarette smuggling operations have been conducted in various regions, including Davao, Calabarzon, Cebu, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Camarines Sur, and Bulacan since 2022. A recent operation in Zamboanga City led to the interception of nearly P3 million worth of smuggled cigarettes during an anti-smuggling operation, resulting in the arrest of four suspects. These individuals were apprehended on a motorized wooden boat, unable to provide documents for the 84 master cases of smuggled cigarettes they were carrying, valued at P2.94 million.

These cigarettes, originating from Jolo, Sulu, and destined for Parang, Maguindanao, have led to smuggling charges against the arrested suspects. The proliferation of illicit cigarettes in Mindanao, as highlighted by Misamis Oriental (2nd District) Representative Yevgeny Vicente Emano, has had a detrimental impact on tobacco farmers and the local economy. He emphasized the need for the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the PNP to address this issue. Emano presented evidence during a budget hearing that showcased various brands of smuggled cigarettes being sold at much lower prices, adversely affecting legitimate local brands.

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