Philippines a haven for cigarette smugglers
By Chay Florentino Hofileña, Newsbreak
Posted at 05/26/2009 7:55 AM | Updated as of 05/26/2009 8:20 AM
(First of two parts)
Fisherman Lino Bocalan became legend in the 1950s to 1960s after he chanced upon an alternative and more lucrative profession: cigarette smuggling.
Beneath the seawaters of his sleepy hometown of Tanza in Cavite, Bocalan discovered gun powder among the remnants of Japanese or American ships from World War II. The finds proved especially useful for fishermen who engaged in dynamite fishing back then.
Illiterate but supposedly gifted with numbers, Bocalan eventually linked up with traders in Mindanao who were drawn to his supply of gun powder. In exchange, they offered him “blue-seal” or imported cigarettes, which were illegally, and easily, transported from areas like Borneo because of the South’s un-policed shorelines.
Before long, Bocalan built a fortune and a name in an industry that grew in Tanza, aided in part by the presence of Sangley Point, a former American base where blue-seal cigarettes were sold and taken out from its commissary. He eventually traded directly with Borneo, cut the southern connection, and became a millionaire.
Decades later, the Tanza cottage industry has evolved into a lucrative national, and even a global, industry. The southern backdoor, where traders of smuggled cigarettes used to taunt law enforcers, has become an outmoded entry point. Smugglers have become more brazen, preferring direct payoffs to willing takers.
The Philippines has become a favorite transshipment point for the smuggling of tobacco to countries where governments are charging exorbitant taxes to curb domestic production and consumption.
Among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines imposed the heaviest tax on cigarettes from 1989 to 1995, according to latest available figures…...