Operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Marine Battalion Landing Team-4 and the Naval Forces West (Navforwest) have swooped down on a coastal town in Palawan and raided several retail establishments for selling illicit cigarettes.
The retail outlets, mostly sari-sari stores, were located in Barangay Rio Tuba in Bataraza, a southern most town in Palawan.
The raiding team led by NBI head agent Norman Decampong said about 30 master cases of assorted cigarette brands were seized from the retail stores, which were allegedly smuggled from Malaysia through the Balabac backdoor, another town in the southernmost tip of Palawan.
The targeted retail stores located along Macadam Road and Gregorio Street in Rio Tuba were caught selling smuggled cigarettes such as Astro, R.S. and Fort.
Navforwest commander Commodore Donn Anthony Miraflor said the operation was organized with the NBI to curb the widespread sale of contraband cigarettes, which is illegal under the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code.
“This is part of our mandate that all items, when imported from any foreign country shall be subject to duties. If you bring them to Palawan, they should be properly documented by our customs office,” Miraflor said.
The sari-sari stores raided were selling the illicit cigarettes at very low prices and without the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) tax stamps.
Before the raid, undercover operatives made test purchases to verify that the retail outlets were selling them. Ten individuals from the raided stores were also arrested.
Charges of violation of the tariff and customs law will be filed against them while the seized illicit cigarettes are now under the custody of the NBI.
The successful raid came in the wake of an aggressive public awareness campaign launched by law enforcement authorities and private trade groups in key areas in Palawan in response to growing incidence of illicit trade in the province.
Palawan, which comprises MIMAROPA, has one of the highest illicit trade incidences in the country with 19.1 percent based on latest study,
The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) has recently circulated posters in the province warning retailers and consumers against patronizing illegal cigarettes and of its corresponding charges and penalties including jail time.
The government is losing about P30 billion to P60 billion a year from illicit trade in cigarettes based on recent estimates by the House committee on ways and means.
Taxes collected from cigarettes are used to fund the Universal Health Care program of the government.
For this year, government targets to collect P2.081 trillion, 16 percent of which will come from excise tax paid by tobacco, alcohol, fuel, soda and automobiles.
In 2020, government collected P148.45 billion in excise taxes from the tobacco Industry alone.
The raid in the Palawan town was the biggest so far in terms of number of retail outlets or Sari-Sari stores targeted.