JTI backs stronger smuggling sanctions

Japan Tobacco International Philippines has expressed support for the proposed bill declaring cigarette smuggling as an act of economic sabotage, a company official said.

The proposed bill, when passed into law, will put more teeth into the government’s relentless effort to curb the illegal tobacco trade and plug massive revenue losses, JTIP General Manager John Freda said.

House Bill 3917 filed by Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos and PBA Partylist Rep. Margarita Ignacia Nograles 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.

Non-bailable crime

Under the proposed law, cigarette smuggling as economic sabotage carries stiffer and heftier penalties, including making the charges of conducting the illicit trade non-bailable.

Tobacco will now join rice, sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and “cruciferous vegetables” in the “economic sabotage” list.

“We appreciate Congressman Marcos and Congresswoman Nograles for championing this bill. We view this as a necessary step to make this crime an act of economic sabotage because put simply it robs the nation’s coffers, which is still reeling from a long-drawn-out pandemic,” Freda said.

He added that “not only does it deprive the government of much-needed tax revenue at this time, but illegal trade cheats everyone: Society, consumers and legitimate businesses.”

Freda also stressed that cigarette smuggling is a complex problem, and not the victimless crime it is often perceived to be since it impacts a raft of industries, sectors, agencies, and livelihoods – from agriculture, tobacco farmers, farm workers, retailers, consumers, tobacco-growing local governments, and law enforcement units down to revenue collection agencies.

Furthermore, proceeds from illegal tobacco sales often finance much larger criminal activities such as corruption, smuggling of drugs and weapons, human trafficking and terrorism.

He said state programs and projects fully or partially dependent on tobacco revenues diminished by unabated smuggling and counterfeiting — have also fallen victim.

Threat grows

In their explanatory note, the bill proponents stressed the urgency of addressing this issue as a “growing threat,” since cigarette smuggling deprives the government of between P30-billion to P60 billion annually in revenues.

The lawmakers said that in several parts of the country, notably in Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental, 60 percent of the cigarettes sold in the market come from illegal sources while in the Ilocos Region, 10 percent of cigarettes being sold are illicit.

“JTI Philippines has previously called for stiffer sanctions against cigarette smuggling, which has become more rampant even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and despite intensified action on the part of law enforcement,” Freda said.

Moreover, under the proposed bill, cigarette smugglers will also face a minimum of 30 years imprisonment but not exceeding 40 years with no bail recommended.

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