TWO congressional leaders filed a bill seeking to amend the anti-agricultural smuggling act of 2016 to include and classify cigarette smuggling as economic sabotage. House Bill (HB) No. 3917 was principally authored by presidential son, senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos and PBA Party-list Rep. Margarita Ignacia Nograles.
Marcos is from Ilocos Norte noted for its tobacco farming, while Nograles hails from Mindanao, which incidentally illicit tobacco trade is prevalent.
Under the proposed law, cigarette smuggling as economic sabotage carries stiffer and heftier penalties, including making the illicit trade non-bailable.
Specifically, Marcos and Nograles want tobacco "both in its raw form or as finished products" be included as among the agricultural commodities.
Under the original law, only included as agricultural commodities are rice, sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and "Cruciferous vegetables."
The law states that a large-scale smuggling of any of these agricultural products is economic sabotage, a heinous crime. Under the proposed bill, cigarette smugglers face a minimum of 30 years imprisonment but not exceeding 40 years with no bail recommended.
At the same time, violators are obliged to settle a fine double the value of the seized smuggled items, plus the total amount of unpaid duties, and other taxes.
The present law provides that persons or firms caught in possession of cigarette products that did not settle excise taxes face an imprisonment of 10 to 12 years imprisonment only.
The same law further provides that a person caught with smuggled cigarettes will be fined 10 times the value of the payable excise taxes or not less than p1 million and a minimum of five years imprisonment.
"There is an urgent need to combat large-scale tobacco smuggling by imposing more stringent penalties and deter the entry and sale of illegal tobacco in the Philippines," the bill proponents said.
During his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Bongbong Marcos declared war against rampant smuggling, and ordered authorities to curb immediately the economic menace within their jurisdiction.
In their explanatory note, the lawmakers said the urgency of addressing this issue is a "growing threat," since cigarette smuggling deprives government billions of pesos annually in revenues.
Citing various government statistics, Marcos noted the fact that government is losing from P30 billion to P60 billion annually in revenues due to cigarette smuggling.
For instance, they said, in 2020, the government allotted P150 billion to address the Covid-19 pandemic, and another P149 billion last year. both funds were taken from the cigarette excise tax
They further 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.
Even in the turf of the Marcoses, the Ilocos Region, considered as the tobacco-producing, the legislators added, 10 percent of the cigarettes being sold are illicit. "If the entry and sale of smuggled cigarettes continues unrestricted, the national government stands to lose even more revenues. this will be detrimental to its pandemic recovery efforts, clearly, this is one of the biggest tax leaks that government needs to plug," the lawmakers emphasized. (END)
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