Pubdate: Wed, 09 Feb 2005
Source: Businessworld (Philippines)
Copyright: 2005 BusinessWorld
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


DAVAO CITY -- As of Tuesday, local dailies have counted 48 killings
linked to the vigilantes since Jan. 1. That's over one death per day.
Statistics reported by local media, however, have not alarmed local

Although Mayor Rodrigo Duterte admitted on television that he was
admonished by Davao Bishop Fernando Capalla over recent incidents,
civil society groups are silent on the issue. It is certainly an
abnormality in some other town, but not here, especially if those
removed are the community's scum. It could be a feature of Davao's
frontier-city character, just like in the Old West.

Many business leaders even expressed approval of the extreme way
suspected criminals are eliminated, noting only bad guys fall victim
to the death squad anyway. Recent protest rallies mounted by militant
groups failed to touch on increasing number of vigilante hits, and
focused instead on the proposed value-added tax increase and other
economic issues confronting the poor.

Unfortunately, families of victims also kept quiet for fear the
killers would hunt them next and that silence is tantamount to
admitting that their fallen relatives belong to the category of
criminals. Vigilante killings reflect inefficiency in government's law
enforcement. It has been going on and raised by local media as a major
issue for years, still, the Davao Death Squad has yet to be unmasked.

The police's official line this time was that the criminals,
especially those involved in illegal drugs, were eliminating each
other. Why? One official claimed with the recent raids, suppliers
failed to deliver on drugs that were already paid in cash. Some of
those killed knew information that could uncover important
personalities in Mindanao involved in illegal drugs, he added.


Many traders are relieved that a suspected drug lord-businessman
wanted by the police is now gone. He's still at large though, but at
least he's a no longer a threat to the community, including the city's
legitimate traders.

The alleged drug lord, if reports about him are true, was not only
destroying the lives of thousands dependent on illegal drugs he
produced. He was also killing small businesses, especially those run
by Filipino retailers. Identified in local reports as the operator of
the shabu laboratory raided on New Year's Eve in Toril district, he
used wholesale distribution of plastic toys and consumer electronics
as front in doing business here.

Sources from the Chinese-Filipino community noted he settled in Davao
with his Filipina wife about three years ago. That was the time when
foreign traders availing of the retail trade liberalization law
mushroomed in this city resulting in complaints from local shop owners.

The suspected drug lord set up a licensed trading business in 2004 and
even paid 10 years in advance rental for a small warehouse in this
city's Sta. Ana. His competitors described him as a puzzle difficult
to solve. His trading firm supplied local traders with consumer
electronic goods and other inexpensive items from China at prices less
than the landed costs.

For instance, he sold China-made generic digital video disc players at
just over P1,500 per unit even as these goods passed normal trading
channels. Plastic toys sold in big department stores here at P100 are
retailed at only P20 in small outlets run by Chinese traders who get
their supply from him. No wonder, many China-made goods retailed here
last year were even cheaper compared with those in Metro Manila's Sta.
Cruz and Cubao commercial districts.

Initially, legitimate traders thought those goods slipped untaxed
through the city's fish port that serves Taiwanese vessels. But the
locally distributed items came from mainland China not Taiwan. His
competitors later concluded that the legitimate trading operation was
all meant to launder drug money.

The rumor mill here also claimed that even as he lost millions of
pesos in the casino, he still was able to distribute cash gifts to his
gambling friends and bought several luxury vehicles in the succeeding
days. When he disappeared after the raid of the Toril shabu
laboratory, some retail shops here also closed. Sources claimed some
of those shops could be linked with the suspected drug lord.


Many could not believe how new foreign migrants could easily establish
a major illegal drug operation here. For years, Mayor Duterte has
consistently warned drug lords on television of death if they start
producing shabu in the city. The mayor believed then that illegal
drugs circulating locally came from somewhere else, mentioning Visayas
and Central Mindanao at times as sources.

The so-called Davao Death Squad, which specializes on assassinating
personalities involved in illegal drugs, should have been a factor why
drug syndicates should spare this city. The local police is also
comparatively efficient, except on matters related to activities of
the Davao Death Squad.

By the way, the death squad slowed down weeks before the Toril raid
indicating it was confident there was no major drug operation in
Davao. But a survey commissioned by the city government in the second
week of December showed illegal drug use was the number one problem of
the community. Apparently, the drug syndicate had good connections
here and that is something the authorities have yet to uncover.
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