Customs says smuggling in Philippines up due to pandemic

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is tightening its watch over the country’s borders following a surge in illicit imported cigarettes, party drugs as well as fake goods, no thanks to the harder times brought by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.

Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero told a webinar organized by The Economist last Wednesday that the BOC had been balancing trade facilitation, revenue collection and border protection amid the longest and most stringent quarantine in the region.

“Given the restrictions, the lockdowns that most countries are facing currently, it is important for customs administration to make sure that the essential goods and services flow freely across borders,” Guerrero said, citing for instance the expedited processes that the BOC had put in place for medicines, personal protective equipment and for the forthcoming Covid-19 vaccine doses.

However, Guerrero admitted that the possible entry of contraband posed a big challenge especially due to a limited volume of goods being traded across borders.

The Customs chief said illicit trade continued in the Philippines with “significant smuggling” of illegal drugs, cigarettes and counterfeit products, in particular.

The BOC earlier said it seized P10.63 billion worth of smuggled items last year, of which more than half or P5.77 billion were imported cigarettes and tobacco products.

Guerrero said smuggling “could be probably reflective of the situation that the Filipino people are facing in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Most of them are locked down in their residences, in their localities, so I believe the penchant for smoking has not diminished, so there’s also an increase in smuggling of tobacco,” he noted.

“Party drugs continue to be smuggled because it somehow helps people in lockdown cope with the stress and anxiety. And similarly with counterfeit goods -- considering the economic condition of most people who are unemployed at the time of the lockdown, normally they resort to selling counterfeit goods for a profit, for them to be able to at least have a meager source of income to feed and support their families,” he added.

Given these challenges, Guerrero said the BOC was intensifying monitoring and enforcement, while closely coordinating with other government agencies and private firms as well as international organizations to combat smuggling. - Philippine Daily Inquirere/Asia News Network

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