P4.8-B fake cigarettes destroyed in Pampanga fire

By Jun Talusan

SOME P4.8 billion worth of fake cigarettes was destroyed by a fire that razed three warehouses in Porac, Pampanga on Labor Day.

The fake cigarettes, raw materials, chemicals and cigarette-making machines were pieces of evidence seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), along with the police, in raids against manufacturers and distributors of fake cigarettes in different parts of the country. 

The fake cigarettes were being kept in the warehouses of Digama Waste Management Services and the Greenleaf 88 Non-Hazardous Waste Disposal inside a 4-hectare compound in Bgy. Mitla that were razed by fire.

The cigarettes were kept in the warehouses while legal cases against the suspects are pending in courts.

Among the evidence that were burnt include the P1.3B worth of fake cigarettes and raw materials seized by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the BIR in Mabalacat City on June 24, 2021.

Also inside the burned warehouses were same products, chemicals and manufacturing machines seized by the BOC and BIR from San Simon, Pampanga and Bulacan, Pangasinan, Cavite, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro over the past few years.

The two companies also keep pieces of evidence for Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco, whose products were copied.

It was learned that the warehouses contained some P4.8 billion of confiscated products.

According to Robert Gaza, owner of Greenleaf 88, that only several security personnel reported for work on Monday since it was a non-working legal holiday.

“’Yung mga security personnel napansin na may usok sa bandang likuran ng mga warehouse na magkakadikit bandang 1 p.m.  nung Lunes, nung lumapit sila para tingnan, nabigla sila na mabilis nang kumakalat ang sunog sa loob at labas ng isang warehouse,” Gaza said.

Gaza said the security personnel immediately notified him and the fire department about the fire.

“Nagsidatingan po ang fire trucks ng Porac at ‘yung galing sa ibang bayan at lungsod sa Pampanga para pagtulungan na patayin ang sunog pero nahirapan sila dahil mabilis na kumalat ang apoy sa loob ng mahigit 2,400 square-meters area ng mga warehouse,” he said.

The fire lasted for 15 hours or until 4 a.m. yesterday.

Porac Fire chief Luna Lumba said initial investigation showed that the fire started from inside one of the warehouses.

A member of the Bureau of Fire Protection said the fire was probably caused by the very hot weather.

“Mahirap pong i-put out ang apoy dahil puno ng combustible materials ang loob ng mga warehouse. Nakita naman po n’yo na halos walang tigil ang pagbalik-balik ng mga fire truck at inikutan na ang mga warehouse pero very persistent talaga ang sunog,” another firefighter said.