VILLASIS, Pangasinan — Twenty-four Chinese nationals are under investigation when they were found side a big compound that is manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes in Barangay Unzad here early Friday.
These were arrested during a raid conducted by agents of the Bureau of Customs, Pangasinan police, Philippine Army, Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Also found in the compound said to be owned by one Tony Li, a Chinese national who was not around when lawmen arrived, were some 50 persons, believed to be stay-in workers, most of whom allegedly came from Bolinao town.
Antero Prado Jr., Bureau of Customs technical assistant and head of the raiding team, explained that the operation was covered by a letter of authority issued by Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
He said this was a continuation of their operations started two weeks ago in Davao City where they seized P65 million worth of counterfeit cigarettes and in Cagayan de Oro, where they found another P23 million worth of fake cigarettes.
A text message of Supt. Jackie Candelario, deputy police provincial director for operations in Pangasinan, to PNA stated that the raid led to the discovery of warehouses containing equipment and apparatuses used in the manufacture of cigarettes.
Also seized were voluminous cartons of cigarettes and raw materials for different brands of cigarettes.
Prado said the raid in Unzad was so far the biggest undertaken by the BOC because apart from seizing about hundred million pesos worth of counterfeit cigarettes, they also found in the area nine different cigarette manufacturing machines, one machine each per cigarette brand, estimated to cost billions of pesos.
The counterfeit cigarettes were contained in the labels of Marlboro, Fortune, More, Jackpot, Mighty, Marvel and others.
Prado said these machines, said to have come from China, are capable of manufacturing 250 cases of counterfeit cigarettes per day, all of which are being delivered to still unnamed warehouses before their distribution to retailers.
How these machines got into the Philippines is a question that will be answered when the Bureau of Customs and other agencies conduct a deeper probe on the matter, he added.
Prado told newsmen that the letter of authority issued by Customs Commissioner Faeldon named Li as owner of the compound. He was, however, nowhere to be found.
The 24 foreigners found in the compound said to be overseeing the manufacture of fake cigarettes could not speak English.
He said the BID will take care of them and look into their papers.
They and the 50 workers found in the area will be charged initially for economic sabotage although they may also be charged by the Bureau of Internal Revenue for using fake stamps in their counterfeit cigarettes.
Prado said the factory has no business permit from the municipal government and that residents near the area believe all along that it is only a warehouse, not knowing that they are already manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes.
Answering questions from newsmen, Prado believes that the factory had been in operation for at least 10 years now.
Asked on the distinct difference between the genuine cigarette brands and the counterfeit ones, Prado said the fake products sell at much lower prices and taste poorly, apart from being of inferior quality.
Whoever were involved in this must be answerable for depriving the government millions of pesos worth of taxes, Prado added. Leonardo Micua/PNA-northboundasia.com