Presence of 24 Chinese nationals inside fake cigarettes factory puzzles probers

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan — What were 24 Chinese nationals doing inside a factory that is screened from view by mango plantations and is suspected of manufacturing fake branded cigarettes?

The question was raised Friday after members of the bureaus of customs, internal revenue, and immigration, as well as the police, the Army’s 702nd battalion, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) raided the factory in Barangay Unzad, Villasis in Pangasinan province.

Also arrested in the operation were some 50 stay-in workers, all from Bolinao, Pangasinan and not a single one from the town and village where the factory is located, baffling the raiding team all the more.

There were reports that up to 50 Chinese nationals were alternating in shifts in overseeing the alleged factory for fake cigarettes but only 24 were found at the site at the time of the raid.

All the suspects, who do not speak English, were placed under arrest and investigation by the immigration bureau, which may require them to produce their travel documents.

No illegal drug or drug laboratory was found in the compound that was fenced by a high concrete wall.

Discovered in the site were fake cigarettes stuffed in packs of Marlboro, Fortune, More, Jackpot, Mighty, and Winston among others, as well as equipment and apparatuses for manufacturing these.

Antero Prado Jr., bureau of customs special assistant, considered the discovery as beyond imagination because the equipment that manufacture the fake cigarettes cost billions of pesos.

All these and other raw materials found at the site were believed to have originated from China.

The factory has neither a business permit from the local government of Villasis nor a clearance from the barangay where it is located.

Barangay officials confirmed that the workers found inside the factory were not locals.

Prado said the customs bureau will also verify whether the factory is connected to similar factories busted in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City where they earlier seized PHP25 million and PHP63 million worth of fake cigarettes, respectively.

A similar raid was undertaken by customs bureau operatives in Pampanga province against another fake cigarette factory, also on Friday. Leonardo Micua/PNA-northboundasia.com