Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Philippine Star (Philippines)
Column: Babe's Eye View
Copyright: PhilSTAR Daily Inc. 2016
Author: Babe Romualdez


The US State Department's 2016 International Narcotics Control 
Strategy Report says that addiction to shabu ( street name for 
methamphetamine or meth) is the most significant drug problem of the 
Philippines, with the narcotic continually growing as the most widely 
trafficked in the country.

A UN World Drug Report also tagged the Philippines as the country 
having the highest rate of shabu use in the whole of East Asia  with 
even the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) 
releasing a pastoral letter last year expressing concern about the 
proliferation of the drug problem in the country and the alleged 
involvement of government officials.

While people would only whisper about police officials being drug 
protectors in connivance with mayors or governors, President Rody 
Duterte has taken the unprecedented step of disclosing the names of 
high ranking police and government officials allegedly involved in 
illegal drugs  with an additional 50 local officials now also under 
investigation according to DILG Secretary Ismael Sueno. This is 
starting to convince many Filipinos that the drug menace is indeed, 
as widespread and pernicious as they had suspected.

Topping the list in President Duterte's "matrix" of individuals 
allegedly involved in the drug trade concentrated in the New Bilibid 
Prison is Senator Leila de Lima, who has laughed off the president's 
disclosure as "rubbish." Millions of Filipinos however do not take 
the issue of illegal drugs as a joke, with estimates of the annual 
drug trade ranging from P350 billion to P500 billion in the Philippines alone.

According to a report by the Philippine National Police, about 27 
percent or 11,321 of the total 42,026 barangays in the country has 
been infiltrated by illegal drugs, with the situation worse in Metro 
Manila because 94 percent of the 1,611 barangays are affected by the 
drug menace  with almost four million Filipinos now classified as drug addicts.

Our sources from the US Drug Enforcement Administration disclosed 
that some of the biggest drug cartels from Mexico including the 
dreaded Sinaloa (whose leader Joaquin "El Chapo Guzman" is cooling 
his heels in prison while awaiting extradition to the US) started 
infiltrating the Southeast Asian region as a "new market" in large 
part due to the intense efforts of the Mexican government against the 
cartels, with experts saying the number of "intentional homicides" 
related to the drug war has gone down by as much as 30 percent under 
President Enrique Pena Nieto's watch.

According to the information I gathered, this drug "pivot to Asia" 
has its roots about a decade ago when the US passed the Combat 
Methamphetamine Epidemic Act that forced meth "chemists" to flee to 
Mexico, in the process discovering that the precursors needed for 
drug production could be bought more cheaply from Asia - specifically 
China and the so-called Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and North 
Thailand. As described by an official of the UN Office on Drugs and 
Crime (UNODC), "crystal methamphetamine is exploding in Southeast 
Asia," citing the 25 tons of meth seized across the region in 2015. 
Obviously, the Philippines has become an important transshipment 
point due to its "geographic location with its enormous coastlines 
and porous borders," making it easy for narco-traffickers to engage 
in their illicit trade.

Just last month, operatives of the PNP and the Philippine Drug 
Enforcement Agency (PDEA) seized close to P1 billion worth of shabu 
in an abandoned house in a coastal barangay in Claveria, 
Cagayan  with Governor Manuel Mamba saying the haul was only "the tip 
of the iceberg." He accused mayors of protecting international drug 
syndicates, saying the coastal towns are serving as drop-off points 
for illicit drugs coming from Taiwan and China. A lot of the drug 
rings operating shabu labs in the country are also reportedly owned 
by Chinese nationals, prompting many Filipinos to remark that, "China 
is invading the country through illegal drugs."

PNP chief Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa also disclosed 
during a Senate hearing that major sources of illegal drugs coming 
into the country are China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A few days ago, the 
Philippines summoned Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to explain the 
intelligence reports.

The Chinese Ambassador admitted that there are some Chinese nationals 
who are indeed engaged in illegal drug activities, but that his 
government does not condone such activities. "Whoever is involved in 
the illegal drug activities, even if they are Chinese citizens, must 
be punished in accordance with laws," he said.

Since the president started waging his war against illegal drugs, 
more than 611,000 drug users and pushers have voluntarily surrendered 
while about 1,700 were killed during police operations according to 
an ABS-CBN report.

General Dela Rosa said the killings outside of legitimate police 
operations are perpetrated by members of drug syndicates who are 
riding on the government's campaign against drugs to wipe each other out.

Some also posit that during a legit raid, one of the operatives may 
just be a rogue cop who takes advantage of the police operation to 
get rid of the suspect who could implicate him. But the 
gangland-style executions of suspected drug pushers and runners is 
making our image before the international community precarious, to 
say the least, which is why the allegations must be proven in court. 
As Chief Justice Sereno said, we must "keep the social fabric 
intact... and prevent society's descent into anarchy."

But when all is said and done, this war on drugs must end sooner than 
later  hopefully within the six-month time frame projected by 
President Duterte. Let's face it, our international image is 
currently on a downward spiral.

Hopefully we can recover just as quickly.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom