P400-M smuggled cigarettes seized in Zamboanga City since January
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Cigarette smuggling remained a lucrative business here after the police and the Philippine Navy have reported seizing more than P400 million worth of the hot goods from January to November this year.
Lt. Chester Cabaltera, spokesperson for the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said the Navy alone had turned over to the Bureau of Customs a total of 1,932 master cases of smuggled cigarettes valued at P87.52 million from its operations from March to November this year.
The cigarettes seized by the Navy mainly came from Sabah, with brands not commonly found in the local market, such as “Bravo,” “Commando,” “Ivana,” “Astro” and “Champion.”
Cabaltera said the Navy’s recent haul happened on Nov. 23 in the seawaters off Labuan village here, where they seized 1,511 cases of assorted cigarettes valued at P53.635 million aboard five boats. The boats used in transporting the contraband were seized and a total of 25 crew members of the vessels were arrested, he added.
Police under the 2nd Zamboanga City Mobile Force Company also intercepted on the same day 72 cases of smuggled cigarettes valued at P2.5 million in the waters off the Roseller T. Lim Boulevard.
The goods seized by the Navy added up to the 9,553 cases of cigarettes previously seized by the Zamboanga City police in 51 antismuggling operations this year.
Police Col. Alexander Lorenzo, acting city police director, said the estimated market value of the smuggled cigarettes the police seized from January to November this year reached P332.9 million, which also resulted in the arrest of 135 individuals, mostly boat crew members involved in transporting the contraband.
Lorenzo said smugglers were having a hard time bringing the contraband inside the city, as they could easily be intercepted at sea by the law enforcement agencies and their seaborne units.
“Majority of these smuggled cigarettes, which come from Sandakan [in] Malaysia, Indonesia and China, are usually intended for nearby provinces. We are still trying to determine the owners of the smuggled items as we are still basing our information on the statements from boat crew members,” Lorenzo said.
He added that cigarette smuggling was becoming a “big industry.”
“We have very porous waters and it’s a challenge for us (security forces) but we are always relentless in this drive against smuggling,” Lorenzo said.
Cabaltera said that without the continuing law enforcement operations, this city would have already been flooded with smuggled cigarettes.
Naval Forces Western Mindanao documented at least five smuggling operations at sea on March 13, May 19, July 31, Aug. 6 and Nov. 23.
Lorenzo urged the local peace and order council here to check on local stores for the possible sale of these smuggled goods and penalize those found to be violating the law.
“Zamboanga City is one local market where these [smuggled] cigarettes can be sold,” he said. “Since they’re not registered with DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), and [they don’t contain] warnings against health effects if [stores selling them] don’t cooperate [with authorities] and insist on selling the cigarettes, [then, we recommend that] their licenses be revoked,” Lorenzo said.