By Ben Rosario
Billions of pesos in revenues are lost annually to smugglers and local syndicates involved in the production of fake cigarette revenue stamps that have proliferated in various parts of the country.
Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano warned that unless government acts swiftly to stop these illegal operations, priority programs such as the Universal Health Care law will suffer.
Savellano has filed House Resolution 79 calling for a congressional inquiry into the proliferation of syndicates engaged in various operations that threaten to derail the Duterte government’s bid to raise additional funds to ensure the success of its health care programs.
The House official noted that a number of government enforcement agencies have already arrested groups involved in the illegal activities that include manufacture of illegal cigarettes, fake cigarette labels, fake revenue stamps, smuggling of fake cigarettes and cigarette making machines.
He recalled that the National Tobacco Administration reported that illicit cigarette trade has deprived government of billions in annual revenues.
Earlier, tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris reported that government raided seven illegal cigarette factories, and seized various machines that are capable of producing 5.6 billion sticks of cigarette per year.
According to Savellano the cigarette machines can produce illegal products at an estimated rate of 2,500 sticks per minute.
“Data gathered by the private sectors showed the amount of seized illegal cigarettes almost doubled to 157 million sticks in 2018 from 89 million in 2017. These were valued at P628 million, almost twice the P356 million worth of fake cigarettes confiscated the previous year,” revealed Savellano.
He also cited the joint operation conducted by the operatives of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and National Bureau of Investigation on a printing facility producing fake cigarette labels and tax stamps.
“This ‘high-tech’ factory could produce P245 million worth of fake internal revenue stamps and deprived government of the same amount of taxes every year,” said Savellano.
At the Port of Zamboanga, the Bureau of Customs seized P25 million worth of smuggled cigarettes last June.
“The BIR and BOC have been bracing for these because of impending cigarette tax increase,” said Savellano.