Ilocandia backs bill against tobacco smuggling

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star

CANDON CITY, Ilocos Sur, Philippines — The entire Ilocos region, which includes the Marcos bailiwick of Ilocos Norte, has expressed full support for the House of Representatives-approved bill against tobacco smuggling.

“The government loses between P30 billion to P60 billion in revenues due to tobacco smuggling. We collect so much taxes from tobacco, and yet we have these smuggling activities. How can we compete with them?” Ilocos Sur 2nd District Rep. Kristine Singson-Meehan said.

Meehan, who succeeded her father and now Candon mayor Eric in the lower chamber, lamented that Filipinos in general stand to lose a lot with these forgone revenues since about P150 billion is earmarked yearly to the Universal Health Care law.

The father-and-daughter tandem supported House Bill 3917, which the chamber approved on third and final reading in December last year and is now in the Senate. It included tobacco in agricultural smuggling, making it an economic sabotage that will carry “no bail” for offenders.

Candon hosted this year’s revival of the annual Tobacco Festival after three years of absence due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

The main author of the measure is Marcos’ eldest son Sandro, who represents Ilocos Norte first district and whose co-author is fellow neophyte lawmaker, PBA party-list Rep. Migs Nograles, whose family hails from Davao City in Mindanao where tobacco smuggling is reportedly rampant.

HB 3917 aims to amend Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, which former president Rodrigo Duterte signed into law. The measure penalizes unlawful importation of tobacco, both in raw and finished products.

Seventy-year-old veteran tobacco farmer Saturnino Distor of the Philippine Tobacco Growers Association Inc. also expressed dismay at how these cheap illicit cigarettes have been hurting the local tobacco industry, apart from their problem of dwindling farmers.

“We’re always at the losing end. They sell their cigarettes at a very low price, which makes our products very difficult to sell,” Distor told reporters in an interview in San Fabian, Pangasinan at their cooperative’s office.

The tobacco group leader also highlighted the challenge of skyrocketing prices of fertilizers that have reached 300 percent and worsened by the fluctuating fuel prices every week.

“Our fertilizer then was only P900. Now it’s P3,000. Our diesel prices also keep on changing on a weekly basis,” he said.

The National Tobacco Administration (NTA), the government’s sole tobacco regulatory agency, is also strongly supporting the passage of HB 3917 and Senate Bill 1812, which is reportedly now being pushed by Sen. Lito Lapid.

The proposed measures against illicit tobacco trade and smuggling are meant to protect the local tobacco industry and sustain and increase the sin tax collection for the government coffers, where the administration can fund several other programs.

Included in the bills are tobacco, manufactured or unmanufactured, finished products such as cigars, cigarettes or heated tobacco products, with a minimum excise tax and value-added tax payable in P1 million in the coverage of large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage.

The NTA is in solidarity with the proponents of the proposed measures, saying these would provide solutions to the curbing of tobacco smuggling and illicit tobacco trading and agricultural smuggling in the country.

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