By Chino S. Leyco
The Department of Finance (DOF) is increasing its vigilance against illicit cigarettes from overseas following the seizure of undeclared loose Chinese-branded tobacco products in Manila.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said he will direct the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to alert its counterparts in China and other Southeast Asian nations about the illegal entry of cigarettes to the Philippines.
“We are increasing vigilance against non-tax paid cigarettes from all sources. I will order BOC to alert their counterparts in China and all the ASEAN countries to the practice of exporting untaxed cigarettes to the Philippines,” Dominguez told reporters.
Last week, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) raided a warehouse owned by Jayson DHK Trading in Binondo, Manila and confiscated around 145 mastercases or 1.45 million sticks of various illicit Chinese-branded cigarettes.
BIR Revenue Officer Remedio C. Advincula Jr., who led the bureau’s strike team, said the emergence of a flourishing black-market industry of Chinese-branded cigarettes in the country is becoming alarming.
Advincula believes unscrupulous traders saw an opportunity to illegally import cigarettes from China amid the growing Chinese market in the Philippines.
The confiscated cigarette packs, which were not affixed with Philippine tax stamps and carried no graphic health warnings, had markings of Chinese brands like Double Happiness, Changbaishan, Ligun, Goldenleaf, Septwolves, and YunYan.
“Filipinos don’t patronize these brands, that’s why I suspect they only cater to Chinese smokers who are here,” Advincula said.
Data from the Department of Tourism showed that 1.21 million Chinese tourists have visited the Philippines in January to August, while the Department of Labor and Employment issued alien working permits to 61,878 Chinese nationals as of June this year.
In August, the BOC and the General Administration of Customs of China signed an intergovernmental agreement aiming to strengthen the cooperation and mutual assistance on customs matters between the two countries.
Dominguez had also directed the BIR and BOC to intensify their joint campaign against the illicit cigarette trade following the approval by the Congress of a new law imposing substantial excise tax increases on tobacco products.