12 Mindanaoan workers rescued from fake cigarette factory

By Thomas F. Picana, The Manila Times, 26 November 2000

BAGUIO City—Government forces on Wednesday rescued 12 workers, all Mindanaoans, being held as virtual slaves in a factory of fake-branded cigarettes at sitio Beliong, Tuba, Benguet province.

Another worker who earlier escaped through a window and tipped off authorities triggered the rescue operation jointly conducted by the Baguio City Police, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Lawyer Alfredo Balicanta, BIR assistant regional director in the Cordillera region, said the law enforcers confiscated machinery and 200 boxes of cigarettes with an estimated value of P5 million. The cigarettes were marked Marlboro, Hope, and Winston.

The factory was allegedly owned by Taiwanese businessman Willy Ng, 31, and other two Chinese nationals who all eluded arrest.

Balicanta said the cigarettes were illegally made and branded but were of high quality. All their materials were imported and the tobacco they are using is first class.

Senior Inspector Paul Cambod, chief of investigation of the Baguio City Police identified the rescued workers as Dailyn Lugatiman, 20, Nelfa Villamino, 22, Lovely Abellar, 18, Teofila Edullantes, 36, Anna Lourdes Bacallan, 20, Cherry Mae Sutina, 17, Sara Samiana, 17, Gloria Ochea, 46, Vanessa Rosal, 18, Maray Jane Soronio 24, Lito Ogcan 20, Crisanto Carbonel 24 and Richard de Ocampo 21. They are all natives of Mindanao.

De Ocampo in his affidavit before the NBI said the suspects had been operating in Benguet for almost one year and were believed to be distributing the cigarettes in the Cordillera region and even in Manila.

He said the workers were fed only rice, dried fish, sardines, and vegetables. They were guarded at all times by armed men and prevented from going outside the factory.

NBI Regional Director Pete Rivera said the suspects will be charged with illegal detention, kidnapping, forced labor, and illegal possession of firearms. The BIR will file charges of tax evasion against Ng and his companions.