Conviction of bogus cigarette peddlers expected to help stave off illicit trade

September 21, 2023 People's Journal 253 views

AN anti-illicit trade advocacy group said the recent conviction of two peddlers of fake cigarettes is expected to help stave off illicit trade of tobacco which deprives government of billions in revenues and exposes consumers to unsafe products.

EKIS Sa Smuggling, a new viral group in social media composed of multiple consumer rights organizations, said the court’s decision against the suspects who were sentenced to prison terms for violation of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines should strike fear among criminal gangs involved in illicit trade.

“The authorities and our justice system acted swiftly with commendable handling of the case. The chilling effect of the conviction should strike fear in the hearts of those involved in illicit trade.

They cannot escape from the long arm of the law,” EKIS Sa Smuggling said in a statement.

The group issued the statement after Judge Antonio Ray Ortiguerra of Las Pinas Regional Trial Court Branch 253 found two individuals—Rodney Magkawas, 23, of Quezon Province and Christian Borja, 18, of San Pablo City, Laguna guilty of unfair competition, in violation of Section 168 of Republic Act No. 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines.

“Retailers and consumers should continue to be vigilant and only deal with legitimate sources when purchasing these products,” EKIS Sa Smuggling said.

Under RA 8293, unfair competition occurs when goods are attempted to be passed off to the public as the legitimate goods of another manufacturer through confusing similarities in appearance.

“Aside from continuous public education, bogus sellers can be deterred with active BIR, BOC, PNP and AFP enforcements. Victims should report directly to the PNP. This conviction is a sign that the issue of illicit cigarette trade has touched a nerve with the public, and the government is intensifying its effort to clean up the streets as result,” said Antonio Israel, president of the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines and one of EKIS’ lead convenors.

EKIS Sa Smuggling found on facebook.com/EkisSaSmuggling was established to educate retailers and consumers on the dangers of buying and selling illicit and counterfeit tobacco and raise awareness online and educate the public on the risks associated with counterfeit and unregulated products.

Referring to statements at the recently concluded International Tobacco Agricultural Summit, EKIS cited the whole-of-government approach advocated by key government agencies and lawmakers as “a beacon of hope to purge the country of illicit cigarette smuggling once and for all.”

The convicted suspects face two to three years of jail time and a fine of P50,000, according to the Las Pinas court decision released on August 7, 2023. Police report shows that the men posed as field sales employees of one of the top tobacco companies to two store owners in Talon 4, Las Piñas by presenting falsified identification cards.

The unsuspecting store owners believed Magkawas and Borja were legitimate agents of the company as they were “well-rehearsed” in engaging their victims. The store owners filed a complaint to authorities after noticing that the stocks they purchased were not the same with the original products. These included 30 rims and 14 packs of counterfeit products which were later verified as counterfeit.

According to National Tobacco Administration, the Philippines is losing up to P30 billion a year in revenue because of tobacco smuggling. For the first time in recent years, tobacco tax revenues fell by 9 percent from P176 billion in 2021 to P160 billion in 2022.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue also made the similar statement earlier saying revenue loss for tobacco is “one of the main reasons why we’re not getting our collection target for excise taxes.”

Revenues from the tobacco industry fund the Universal Health Care program of the government. The tobacco industry provides livelihood to 25,000 farmers, and more than 2.2 million individuals rely on the tobacco industry.