SMUGGLED CIGARETTES. Three persons are injured as a panel truck loaded with smuggled cigarettes crashes on a tree before reaching its destination Thursday (Sept. 15, 2022) in Dumingag town, Zamboanga del Sur province. The truck, loaded with dried fish, came from Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte. (Photo courtesy of Area Police Command-Western Mindanao)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Three suspects were arrested and some PHP5.5 million worth of smuggled cigarettes were seized in separate law enforcement operations in the Zamboanga Peninsula, a top police official reported Friday.

Col. Richard Verceles, operations chief of the Area Police Command-Western Mindanao, said Jason Utlang, 30, Alfadzre Sumaga, 18, and Givemark Epat, 17, were arrested around 10 p.m. Thursday at Barangay Makugihon in Molave town, Zamboanga del Sur province.

Verceles said the joint police and Bureau of Customs (BOC) personnel were conducting an intelligence-driven anti-smuggling operation when they intercepted a vehicle driven by Utlang.

Upon inspection, the vehicle was found loaded with 1,309 reams of undocumented assorted cigarettes worth PHP915,600.

Meanwhile, policemen also seized 73 master cases of cigarettes worth PHP2.6 million while responding to a reported vehicular accident Thursday morning along the national highway in Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur.

Investigation showed a panel truck that came from Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte, crashed into a tree and rolled over at the shoulder of the road after its brake malfunctioned while negotiating a descending road.

“As a result, the boxes and dried fish scattered on the road and the vehicle incurred major damage,” Verceles said.

In a follow-up investigation, the police managed to establish the identity of the panel driver as Janisar Isnani, 33, of Barangay Talon-Talon in this city.

Together with Isnani during the accident was his wife, Richel, 30, and his truck man, John Raven Lutian, 27, of Barangay Mampang here.

The three were admitted to a hospital in Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur.

Also on Thursday, police seized 180 master cases of assorted smuggled cigarettes worth PHP2,048,000 around 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Barangay Walled City in Jolo, Sulu.

Verceles said the policemen were on foot patrol when they saw a pile of master cases of cigarettes along a wooden pathway.

He said the cigarettes were taken to the Jolo municipal police station for eventual turnover to the BOC, as no one claimed ownership of the tobacco products. (PNA)