Authorities seized nearly P22 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in three separate operations in Zamboanga City and Sulu in November, exposing smuggling operations in the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The cigarettes were traced to Indonesia, and smuggled into Mindanao via Tawi-Tawi.
These were later moved to Sulu, another BARMM province, using smaller boats before being sent to the mainland via the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Naval Forces Western Mindanao Commander Rear Admiral Toribio Adaci said the smuggled “goods came originally from Indonesia” based on the reports of the Navy, marines, and maritime police forces in Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga.
The third anti-smuggling operation was in the waters off Tumalutab Island in Zamboanga on Thursday, November 25.
There, some P2.2 million worth of smuggled cigarettes were seized during a joint operation by the seaborne team of the 2nd City Mobile Force Company, Bureau of Customs, Intelligence and Investigation Service, and the Enforcement and Security Service.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Reynald Arino, 2nd CMFC commander, said 65 boxes of cigarettes were intercepted while being transported by a motorboat from Sulu to Pagadian City.
Zamboanga City police chief Rexmel Reyes identified the crew as Tahang Nasser Abubakar, Isran Sakib, and Alnijar Impang Mauddin, all from Pangdan Calang, Sulu.
“The items, crew, and boat were turned over to Customs. They will further investigate and file cases against the crew and the owner,” said Adaci.
He said initial investigation showed that the goods were smuggled into the country by a bigger vessel, and then divided and transferred to smaller boats.
“That’s the modus operandi. Usually, they use vessels to bring in as many as 5,000 to 10,000 boxes of cigarettes. When they reach Philippine territory, they would then transfer the goods to smaller vessels for distribution to different places,” he said.
Thursday’s catch near Tumalutab Island was smaller compared to the P19 million worth of smuggled cigarettes seized on two separate occasions on November 19.
Naval Forces-Western Mindanao public affairs officer Lieutenant Senior Grade Chester Ross Cabaltera said the Naval Task Group-Sulu confiscated some P7 million worth of smuggled cigarettes during a patrol off the coast of Pandan-Pandan, Kalingalan Caluang in Sulu.
He said the smuggled cigarettes were being ferried by MB Francis Kane.
The Navy identified those apprehended as MB Francis Kane captain Amirul Haber, Muhaimin Idris, Abdin Jaji, Mustamir Han, Ahabse Maruju, and Alvin Addani. All are from Pangan-Pangan, Kalingalang Caluang town in Sulu.
Colonel Hernane Songano, 4th Marine Brigade commander, said the 175 boxes of cigarettes of cheaper and unpopular brands were found in the vessels.
On the same day, the Zamboanga police raided a warehouse on Diamond Drive in Divisoria in the city, and seized 354 boxes and 64 reams of cigarettes of assorted brands.
Zamboanga police station 5 commander Major Ramon Aquiatan said the warehouse yielded P12.43 million worth of smuggled cigarettes.
For unclear reasons, police have yet to identify any suspect in connection with the November 19 warehouse raid as of this posting. Neither have the police identified the warehouse owner.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said she wanted those caught, and those behind the smuggling operations investigated, and brought to court.
“We will not tolerate smuggling operations in Zamboanga,” Climaco said. –Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.