P/Lt. Col. June Rian (left most) with PCG District Palawan commander Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, Naval Forces West commander Commore Allan Javier, and Palawan Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates during the Arampangan sa Kapitolyo (AsK) on April 28. | Photo from the Palawan Provincial Information Office

The Palawan Police Provincial Office (PPPO) is not letting off in its campaign to curb smuggling operations in the province, particularly of cigarettes being illicitly shipped inside through the island town of Balabac, which serves as the backdoor from Malaysia and other neighboring countries in the south.

P/Lt. Col. June Rian, PPPO Deputy Provincial Director for Operations, said they have been constantly intensifying their operation and intelligence information gathering in the southern part of the province to combat illegal entry of merchandise particularly cigarettes which they have been regularly confiscating.

“Sa part ng PNP, continuous ang operation namin regarding sa usapin na yan. Sa katunayan, noong nakaraan meron kaming nahuli na more or less 105 boxes. Mayroon din dito sa Narra, nagkakaroon kami ng directives, maliban doon sa personnel na weekly directives, then pinaigting namin yong deployment ng intelligence personnel,” Rian said.

(On the part of the PNP, our operation regarding that issue is continuous. In fact, in the past, we were able to seize around 105 boxes. We also have directives here in Narra, apart from the weekly directives for personnel, we have intensified the deployment of intelligence personnel.)

He emphasized that they are constantly conducting monitoring and operations to minimize, if not completely halt, the smuggling of illicit tobacco.

In the month of April alone, PPPO together with other law enforcement agencies were able to intercept hundreds of master cases of New Berlin, Souvenir, and Fort cigarettes in Puerto Princesa City, Narra, and Bataraza town.

On April 1st, two individuals were apprehended by personnel from Puerto Princesa City Police Station 2 (PS 2) during a checkpoint in Brgy. Luzviminda, and 107 master cases of smuggled Fort and Berlin cigarettes amounting to P4.2 million were seized. On April 12th, PS 2 and City Mobile Force Company conducted another operation in Brgy. Inagawan, where they apprehended four individuals and confiscated 134 master cases of illicit cigarettes worth approximately P16 million, which were found aboard two shuttle vans.

On April 15th, a suspect was apprehended by joint operatives from the Naval Forces West (NFW) and Bataraza Municipal Police Station in Brgy. Rio Tuba, Bataraza, for being in possession of smuggled cigarettes and other illegal items worth P1.2 million.

A briefer on the illicit trade of tobacco products obtained by Palawan News stated that in the Philippines stated that illegal trade of cigarettes in Palawan almost doubled from 24.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021 to 48.1 percent in the same period in 2022, a rate that is almost on par with the major hotspots in Mindanao.

It also stated that despite being outside the Pan Pacific highway and Philippine Nautical Highway, Palawan has the 7th highest illicit tobacco trade at 48.1 percent, next to Maguindanao (73%), Zamboanga del Norte (69.4%), Lanao del Sur (62%), North Cotabato (57.5%), Misamis Occidental (51%) and Lanao del Norte (49.6%).

Meanwhile, Rian also explained that despite having the highest number of arrested persons in MIMAROPA, Palawan does not have the highest crime rate in the region.

In 2021, the province recorded 1,081 total crime incidents, then in 2022, it went down to 1,007.

Rian stated that the recorded number of cases in MIMAROPA is based on their monthly and quarterly accomplishments were Palawan ranked number 1 in number of arrested because of the e-warrant system being implemented by the Philippine National Police.

“This means not all arrested in the province committed their crime here,” Rian said.

“Meron na kasi tayong e-warrant system ngayon meaning lahat ng crime namo-monitor namin. For example, may suspect nag-commit ng crime sa Region V, pag nalabasan ng warrant yan, mamo-monitor namin at pag nakita dito, huhulihin so bilang yun sa number of arrest dito,” he added.

(We already have an e-warrant system now, which means that we can monitor all crimes. For instance, if a suspect commits a crime in Region V and a warrant is issued, we can monitor it. If the suspect is found here, we will arrest them and it will be counted in the number of arrests here.)

Aside from the e-warrant system, Rian also said they already are implementing the national police clearance system which also makes it easier for them to track down persons with standing warrants of arrest.

“Nagkaroon ng validation of incidents last week and may dumating na 10 unit ng computer para sa (Last week, there was a validation of incidents and 10 computer units were delivered for the) issuance of national police clearance where it is automatic when a person who has a standing warrant tries to secure police clearance, it will be an automatic hit for him and he will be arrested,” he explained.