MANILA – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Thursday filed before Department of Justice (DOJ) 69 tax evasion charges against illicit traders who were caught selling untaxed, fake and smuggled cigarettes.

In an interview, BIR Commissioner Romeo Lumagui Jr. said the cases stemmed from the first ever nationwide raids conducted by the agency last January 25 in different parts of the country.

“The total exposure we have filed today, including the penalties and fines, amounts to PHP1.8 billion based on the result of our nationwide raids against illegal cigarette [traders]. Again, it was the first ever nationwide operation in the BI history,” he said.

The BIR’s nationwide raids last January covered 378 stores in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Lumagui said all revenue regions of the BIR participated in the nationwide raid since the illicit cigarettes are considered a nationwide concern of the agency.

The BIR chief noted that the government loses around PHP50 billion to PHP100 billion due to illegal cigarette trade, an amount which should have been put to better use to fund health services and needed infrastructure.

He vowed that the BIR would continue its campaign against illegal cigarette traders by conducting more raids and filing of cases.

“This is a warning against all illicit traders. The BIR will not only raid your stores and warehouse, we will also file criminal cases against you. This will not be the last,” he said.

Lumagui also said the BIR is looking into the sources of the cigarettes being sold illegally across the country, noting that a big syndicate may be the one supplying these sellers.

He said among the focus would be on Zamboanga City and Pampanga, as the two provinces are considered “hotspots” for cigarette smuggling.

He said the BIR is also determining the locations of factories where the counterfeit cigarettes are being manufactured.

“The BIR protects the Philippine economy by levelling the playing field. Everybody has to pay taxes. Traders of cigarettes, vape, petroleum, and other goods subject to taxes have to register with the BIR and pay their taxes,” Lumagui reminded taxpayers.

“Failure to do so would force us to raid your stores and file criminal cases against you. We are in constant surveillance of your businesses. Not only will you have to pay your taxes with penalties and surcharges, but you will also lose your freedom,” Lumagui said. (PNA)