Nueva Ecija’s Gov. Umali declares all-out war vs illicit cigarette business
MANILA, Philippines — Nueva Ecija Governor Aurelio “Oyie” Umali warned personalities behind the proliferation of illicit cigarette trade in the province and ordered them to “cease and desist” from their illegal operations.
Umali raised the ultimatum to those involved in the illicit operations, as he admitted that Nueva Ecija is now fast becoming a haven for illegal manufacturing of fake cigarettes and the rampant selling of these illicit products as well.
The governor’s call is echoed by other local executives across the country and declared their own war against illicit cigarette trade within their turf.
Citing facts and figures provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Provincial Office , Umali disclosed that four of the five cities and 12 more municipalities in the province are “highlighted” to be actively involved in the illegal cigarette trade.
These are the cities of Cabanatuan, Gapan, San Jose and Munoz and the municipalities of Bongabon, Cabiao, San Antonio, San Isidro, Zaragoza, Sta. Rosa, Guimba, Jaen, Lupao, Pantabangan, Gabaldon and Cuyapo.
“Marami pong pagawaan ng fake na sigarilyo. Marami ring nagbebenta ng pekeng sigarilyo,” Umali said.
He gave notice that “nobody is above the law,” whether or not some influential personalities are behind this illegal trade. His final warning: “We’ll gonna put them down!”
Urgently addressing this issue, Umali said, the provincial PNP headed by Col. Richard Caballero and the provincial capitol have been wrapping up measures to penalize people behind this menace.
Just last Friday, October 14, members of the Zaragoza MPS and 2nd Maneuver Platoon 1st PMFC- NEPPO, seized 92 master cases of illegal cigarettes estimated to be more than Php1.1 million during a routine checkpoint. The suspects, carrying unregistered or counterfeit cigarettes without the required Graphic Health Warnings and BIR tax stamps like Two Moon, Dunston, Blackjack and Modern, tried to evade the checkpoint leading to a chase and eventual arrest of two suspects.
The governor reminded everyone of the huge fines and penalties, including imprisonment to those found involved in this illegal activity. “Alam po ninyo ang penalty and the law on that, hindi lang po masasara (ang factories) at makukulong (pa) kayo. Bilyon po ang danyos at perwisyo na ibibigay dyan,” the governor stressed.
He would not disclose the locations of the illegal factories as part of the strategy for incoming surprise crackdown operations.
In February this year, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) raided a warehouse in Cabanatuan City. Seized from the operation were multi-billion peso worth of packaging materials and printing machines used for labeling illicit cigarettes.
The raiding team also confiscated raw materials, tobacco paraphernalia, drums of alcohol solvent, pails of powder ink, rolls of printing papers and cartons of fake cigarette brands.
Among the cartons of illegal brands of cigarettes were Farstar, Modern, New Berlin and Two Moon.
In 2020, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized an estimated P1 billion worth of fake cigarettes in the municipality of Cabiao. Also confiscated were three boxes containing fake tax certification stamps, 15 cigarette-making machines, packing machines, filer-making machines, a mixer and a dryer and voluminous raw materials.
Arrested from the raid were 20 Chinese nationals involved in the manufacturing of counterfeit cigarettes and 100 Filipinos believed to be working for the firm.
In 2018, BOC raided and padlocked an illegal cigarette factory in Gapan City. Arrested were 16 Chinese nationals.
Umali further said they are now finalizing details of massive crackdown operations sooner than expected and made himself clear that his pronouncement be considered his ultimatum.
Expressing disgust over this illegal trade, Umali said the government is losing P750 million on revenues in Nueva Ecija alone.
Umali’s figure was confirmed by the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), an organization of domestic cigarette manufacturers.
PTI, however clarified that the P750 million figure provided by Umali refers only to the first six months of 2022.
“How many classrooms, how many chairs na sana ang maibibigay nya. And yet nagagawa pa ng ating lalawigan ang paggawa ng ganitong sigarilyo,” Umali added.
At the same time, Umali urged media practitioners to help him in his effort to curb illicit cigarette trade in his province.
“We are heavily concentrated on our war against drugs and other vices at sa rehabilitation and yet here we are yung simpleng mabibili mo sa bawat kanto o nilalako ay hindi po dumaan sa tamang proseso,” he added, referring to the selling of illegal cigarettes.
House leaders see strong drop in smoking rate once vape bill becomes law
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.