By Chino S. Leyco
A special team formed recently by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to crack down on the illicit tobacco trade will work closely with other government agencies to further step up the Department of Finance’s (DOF) campaign against perpetrators of this scheme.
In a report to Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, the BIR said its Strike Team and other concerned offices of the bureau will actively coordinate with other government agencies “to curtail further the proliferation of the illicit cigarette trade.”
BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa said that as part of these efforts, the regional investigation division assisted a team led by the Bureau of Customs last February 9 in seizing and apprehending several unregistered cigarette-making machines and fake stamps inside an illegal cigarette manufacturing facility in Tacloban City.
Guballa also said that at a recent hearing conducted by the Senate ways and means committee, lawmakers had proposed that the BIR be provided with funds to assist the Strike Team in gathering intelligence against illicit tobacco traders.
“They [senators] noticed that we have conducted several raids and apprehensions, and I told the committee that we do not have funds for intelligence [gathering]. And they are willing that, if this universal health care [bill] will be passed, they will give to the BIR some funds for the equipment and the warehouse [for storing seized machines and goods],” Guballa said.
In response, Dominguez said that because the Customs is the main investigating body against these illegal activities, the agency should also be given a share of the funding proposed by the senators, because their goal is to strengthen the government’s operations against smuggling and tax evasion.
Dominguez has underscored the need for heightened government vigilance against the illicit manufacture and sale of tobacco products, given that the increase in “sin” taxes has incentivized illegal traders to increasingly resort to smuggling and tax evasion.