PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—An alleged smuggling syndicate operating in the southwestern tip of Palawan was busted and P15 million worth of assorted cigarettes from Malaysia were confiscated by intelligence operatives of the Western Command and Naval Forces West on Thursday.
Wescom spokesman Major Neil Estrella said Friday the bust was conducted following weeks of surveillance on the group believed actively involved in smuggling and using Mangsee Island in Balabac, an area nearest to the border of Malaysia, as a transit point of the contraband entering the country.
"This shipment route is very active. Almost every other week there are ... contraband that are able to get into mainland Palawan and into the rest of the country," Estrella said.
Based on intelligence reports from surveillance activities, Estrella said they applied for a search warrant and was granted by Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Dilig to investigate a network of warehouses in Balabac used by several Muslim traders based there.
"So far, we have searched seven warehouses and were able to retrieve at least P15 million worth of smuggled cigarettes. We're also looking into the possibility of drugs and firearms," Estrella said.
He said the operation was assisted by fast crafts of the US-assisted Small Boat Unit (SBU) of the PNP Maritime which was primarily intended for terrorist interdiction duties around Palawan's southern backdoor.
Smuggling charges were being prepared against several Muslim traders based in Balabac, according to Estrella.