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Narco-politics, foreign drug cartel menace in the Phl

In the household survey done three years ago, an estimated 1.3 million Filipinos were reported as “users” of illegal drugs. Compared from the last survey period, there were 1.6 million Filipinos hooked on illegal drugs.

 Based from this available survey, it would seem that the drug addiction problem in our country is on decline, Arturo Cacdac Jr., director-general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) surmised. Cacdac disclosed there would be another household survey next year for an updated profile.

 Based on this survey, Cacdac believed the reduction in the number of drug dependents could largely be attributed to the impact of the government’s intensified anti-drugs campaign.

Since he took office as PDEA chief, Cacdac pointed to the dramatic increase in the number of arrests and seizures of shabu, marijuana, ecstasy, and other illegal drugs either smuggled or manufactured locally. However, Cacdac admitted this does not mean the problem is now under control by government authorities but remains a socio-economic menace.

The PDEA chief discussed the illegal drugs problem in our country during the regular Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum at the Luneta Hotel last Wednesday. A retired three-star police general, Cacdac was appointed as PDEA chief by President Aquino in October 2012. A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1978, he retired as deputy director-general for administration of the Philippine National Police (PNP) before being appointed to PDEA.

Cacdac credited the gains of the government’s anti-drug campaign to a largely inter-agency effort under the country’s criminal justice system. The PDEA was created in 2002 through Republic Act 9165 as the principal law enforcement arm of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).

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But Cacdac reports directly to President Aquino, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. The PDEA chief sits at the DDB which is the policymaking body. It is chaired by Secretary Antonio Villar Jr., serving the unexpired six-year term of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, principal author of the PDEA Law or RA 9165. Incidentally, the term of office of Villar who happens to be an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ends this year.

Prepared with the accomplishment report of the PDEA through the years, Cacdac presented during the forum various graphs and tables detailing seizures of shabu and ecstasy; marijuana plantation sites eradicated; and dismantled clandestine laboratories used to manufacture illegal drugs here. For the first half of this year alone, PDEA reported having seized 421 kilograms of shabu, or more than half of the total seizures of 718 kilos for the entire 2014.

What is bothersome, the PDEA chief disclosed, was the growing menace of international drug syndicates from West Africa, Mexico, North Korea and China taking advantage of the porous borders of the Philippines. Getting foothold here for their drug traffic, these foreign drug cartels use cellular phones and the internet to conduct their illicit transactions.

One case involved an Indian national enrolled here as a student, who was caught selling “fly-high,” or shabu-laced ecstasy tablets popular as a party-goers’ drug, at the University Belt. The suspect was engaged in his illegal trade using “bit-coins,” or online transactions instead of actual money changing hands.

The country used to be a transshipment point only in the illegal drugs trade, but apparently these foreign drug cartels find a veritable market here. According to the same survey, he said, the drug dependents in the country are usually those in the age bracket of 29 years old and 34% of them are gainfully employed.

Of the 421 kilos of shabu seizures this year, 259 kilos were seized from one raid on the clandestine laboratory that PDEA dismantled in Cagayan during an inter-agency operation with the PNP. What was alarming in some of these operations, Cacdac noted, was that local elected officials in the provinces were found involved.

Only last February, two former municipal mayors in Masbate were arrested for allegedly operating a shabu laboratory by combined elements of the PDEA and the PNP Anti-illegal Drug Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF).

Lester Abapo, incumbent chief of Barangay Magallanes, was caught in Barangay Tugbo while his cousin, Cherry Boy Abapo Jr., was arrested in Barangay Nursery, both in Masbate City. Lester was a former mayor of Milagros town and Cherry Boy of San Fernando. 

By PDEA’s own analysis, the arrests made on illegal drug charges for this year were comprised of those employed in government (45%); law enforcers (26%); and elected officials (29%). This year’s arrest exceeded the record in 2013 and is the highest since 2011 per PDEA record because netting mostly “high-value” targets.

Without going into details, the PDEA chief was obviously careful in his statements about the involvement of elected politicians in the lucrative illegal drugs trade. He suddenly lost memory when asked if these officials belong to any political party.

During the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, there was concern that money-making operations of big-time drug lords could help raise campaign funds for the coming May 2016 national and local elections. The PDEA chief conceded there is such possibility. He reassured us though the PDEA is keeping steps ahead of these illegal drug syndicates, especially against their money-laundering activities.

While PDEA is aided by the use of latest technology and human intelligence assets in the field and drugs-sniffing dogs in its K-9 unit, Cacdac appeals to members of the 16th Congress on the proposed amendment of RA 9165 that would allow the PDEA exemption from the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

While he refused to delve into the realm of narco-politics, Cacdac, reassures the public PDEA applies equally the long arm of the law wherever or whoever is engaged in this nefarious trade. Cacdac assuaged us that the PDEA will not play politics and arrest any public official, whether elected or appointed, if he or she is involved in any illegal drugs activities.

 

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