Iligan City

BIR begins crackdown on Iligan’s illicit cigarette traders

Merlyn Manos
BIR begins crackdown on Iligan’s illicit cigarette traders

CHECKING. A Bureau of Internal Revenue official checks the stamps on each pack of cigarettes at one store in Iligan City on Wednesday, January 25.

Merlyn Manos / Rappler

'I knew that the cigarettes I was selling were illegal, but I saw it everywhere, in the market and on the streets, so it seemed like the norm, and I followed the crowd to earn extra income,' says one Iligan store owner

ILIGAN, Philippines – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Wednesday, January 25, began a crackdown on the illicit cigarette trade in Iligan City, where the sale of smuggled cigarettes has become commonplace.

Nena Juntong, the owner of one of the stores selling illicit cigarettes in Barangay Suarez, Iligan City, was among those caught.

She admitted to knowing that the items were illegal but said she took the risk because all the stores around her were also selling them. 

“I knew that the cigarettes I was selling were illegal, but I saw it everywhere, in the market and on the streets, so it seemed like the norm, and I followed the crowd to earn extra income,” Juntong admitted.

The BIR estimated that one small store alone yielded more than P100,000 worth of illicit cigarettes, mostly with brand names that were unfamiliar a few years back.

The cigarettes seized from stores were packaged as Cannon, Modern, Billionaire, San Marino, Delta, Maverick, Mighty, and Marlboro Gold, which authorities said were likely counterfeit.

The government is losing some P50 billion to P100 billion in tax revenues annually due to the illicit cigarette trade, and BIR regional director Emir Abutazil issued a stark warning to illegal cigarette sellers in Iligan and its neighboring areas.

He said their actions not only undermine the law but also cost the government much-needed revenue for basic services, including health programs.

On Wednesday alone, authorities raided 13 retail stores in the villages of Suarez and Tibanga that were selling illicit cigarettes on January 25.

The raids followed covert operations to identify Iligan stores engaged in illicit cigarette sales in violation of BIR rules and regulations.

The boxes of confiscated cigarettes were brought to the BIR regional office in Cagayan de Oro City for inventory. Officials said these would all be destroyed. 

Abutazil said there were more illicit cigarette dealers and the BIR would carry on with its campaign in the region to increase its annual collections by 25% to 35%. 

“Reducing the sale of illicit cigarettes will help us achieve this goal,” said Jamalodin Guro, assistant chief of the BIR’s Regional Investigation Division.

BIR-Iligan Revenue District officer Amanoding Esmail said authorities welcome useful information from concerned citizens to identify the distributors and manufacturers of illicit cigarettes. 

Guro said investigators noted that illicit cigarettes were in packs either without strips stamps or with fake stamps that are unreadable using BIR equipment.

“If the stamp is blurry, that is Korean- or China-made,” Guro said.

The BIR said authorities would carry out more operations against illicit cigarette traders, and those found violating the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 would be charged.

Violators, officials said, could be charged with violation of minimum price rules, unlawful business, possession of spurious BIR stamps, tax evasion, and failure to issue receipts. – Rappler.com

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