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Lapid bill seeks to declare smuggling of tobacco worth P1M as economic sabotage

Senator Lito Lapid has filed a bill seeking to declare smuggling of P1 million worth of tobacco in the country as economic sabotage.

Senate Bill 1812 seeks to amend Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act by including tobacco as among those agriculture commodities that illegal importation can be classified as economic sabotage.

In explaining the intent of the bill, Lapid said smuggling of cigarettes from neighboring ASEAN countries has resulted in loss of revenues worth P26 billion annually.

Citing the latest estimates of market analysis provider Euromonitor International, the senator said 13% of cigarettes being sold in the Philippines are illegal, either smuggled without payment of import duties, or manufactured locally but sold without tax stamps signifying correct excise payments.

He also mentioned House ways and means committee chairman Albay Rep. Joey Salceda's estimates, showing that there is around P60 billion worth of foregone revenues from cigarettes every year.

Apart from this, Lapid noted the seizure of smuggled cigarettes worth around P5.266 million in Zamboanga Sibugay on April 16, 2022, as well as confiscation of P8.6 million worth of cigarettes during multiple anti-smuggling operations in the Port of Zamboanga.

"Given these, it is important to combat large-scale tobacco smuggling through the imposition of stringent penalties and by deterring the entry and sale of illegal tobacco in the country," Lapid said in his explanatory note.

"It must be remembered that during the tough times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, revenues from the sin  products, such as the cigarettes, were used to finance the government's universal health care program," he added.

In a statement, the Philippine Tobacco Growers Association supported the passage of SB 1812.

The association, which represents 50,000 tobacco farmers across the Philippines, asked the Senate to act on Lapid's measure, claiming that the agricultural smuggling problem adversely affects about 462 workers involved in the tobacco production chain.

PTGA president Saturnino Distor said rampant smuggling continues to be a grave threat to the livelihood of local farmers and millions of dependents who rely on these industries for income and sustenance. —Hana Bordey/KBK, GMA Integrated News