By MARK FRANCISCO
FIRST, it was the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Then yesterday it was the turn of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) – BOC’s sister agency under the Department of Finance – to accost fake cigarettes nationwide in a simultaneous midmorning operation January 25.
Here in Cagayan de Oro City, BIR-16 personnel led by assistant director Rufo Ranario swooped down on five retail outlets and confiscated master cases of cigarettes. As of this writing, the number of seized packs were still inventoried.
This strategic action was a departure from earlier BIR operations when agents zeroed in on warehouses and discovered the illicit items.
“Smugglers now are more cunning. They know they are being monitored so they do not use 16 wheelers to transport their goods anymore. That’s why we interdict them at the retail level,” Ranario said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon after the operation. (A simultaneous operation in Iligan City against 13 retailers also netted a yet undetermined volume of counterfeit cigarettes.)
In underscoring the national government’s drive against unregistered cigarettes and other smuggled products, Ranario said BIR is the second agency in line to undertake such tasks.
“Smuggling must be intercepted at the ports of entry by the Customs. If the products are already at the distribution level, this becomes our job,” Ranario said, even as he vowed to run after tax evaders down to the last peso.
Retailers who were caught with the smuggled items yesterday will face criminal complaints before the prosecutor in accordance with BIR’s Run After Tax Evaders program, particularly the Tax Code of the Philippines.
The operation yesterday involved several units of BIR-16 namely the Regional Investigation Division, the Legal Division, Revenue District 98 based in Cagayan de Oro City and Revenue District 101 based in Iligan City.
Overall, there were 368 stores in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that were raided yesterday morning upon orders of BIR Commissioner Romeo Lumagui Jr. It is estimated that P50 billion in revenues is lost to the illicit tobacco trade in the country.