Tobacco distributor backs bill vs cigarette smuggling
MANILA, Philippines— A proposed law that would make cigarette smuggling a heinous crime would represent a bold move against this illicit activity and help plug revenue losses for the government amounting to tens of billions of pesos annually, according to JTI Philippines, the local unit of Japan Tobacco Inc.
The company is supporting House Bill No. 3917, filed by Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos and PBA party list Rep. Margarita Ignacia Nograles, which seeks to classify cigarette smuggling as economic sabotage and impose stiffer and heftier penalties, including making the illegal trade nonbailable.
The measure, which has passed first reading at the House of Representatives and has been referred to the House agriculture committee, provides that convicted cigarette smugglers be imprisoned for at least 30 years but not more than 40 years.
Also, violators are liable to a fine double the value of the seized contraband, plus the total amount of unpaid duties and other taxes.
The bill seeks to include tobacco, either in its raw or finished form, in the list of agricultural commodities whose illegal importation will be considered a heinous crime under the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
Hence, illegal tobacco traffic will join the smuggling of rice, sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and “cruciferous vegetables” in the list of activities that are considered economic sabotage.
“We view this [bill] as a necessary step to make this crime an act of economic sabotage because it robs the nation’s coffers, which is still reeling from a long-drawn out pandemic,” JTI Philippines general manager John Freda said in a statement.
“JTI Philippines had previously called for stiffer sanctions against cigarette smuggling, which has become more rampant even amid the restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and despite intensified action on the part of law enforcement, Freda said.
Citing the bill’s explanatory note, he said cigarette smuggling deprived the government of between P30 billion and P60 billion annually in revenues.
According to Marcos and Nograles, 60 percent of the cigarettes sold in Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental and 10 percent that are peddled in the Ilocos region were smuggled.
Freda said cigarette smuggling was not the victimless crime it was often perceived to be since it impacts a range of industries, sectors, agencies and livelihoods—from the agriculture sector as a whole, including tobacco farmers, retailers, consumers and tobacco-growing local government units, down to the revenue collection agencies.
He added that proceeds from illegal tobacco sales often financed much larger criminal activities such as corruption, smuggling of drugs and weapons, human trafficking and terrorism.
JTI Philippines has a workforce of more than 4,500 and is the distributor of a number of international brands, including the formerly controversial local brands Mighty and Marvels.
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