RP-the making of a narcostate

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc () - August 22, 2001 - 12:00am
Oh, that dreadful prefix again, narco-. It begs for similarly dreadful suffixes like -trafficker, -war, -terrorism. If words alone scare, more so should the real scourge of drugs. Listening to the tales of addicts and their equally drug-victimized though non-using relatives makes even tough guys shudder. How they helplessly fall in empty love for the substance that makes their lives even emptier. How they’d do anything – steal, kill, sell their bodies – just for a dose, a shot, a toke. What they remember doing uncontrollably while on a high: rape, massacre, slash their own wrists.

And they are many. Narcocrusaders conservatively estimate that 1.8 million Filipinos are addicted to shabu. That’s one out of every 42 of the 76 million Filipinos. In a typical family reunion of 40 or so siblings, cousins and their offspring, there’s bound to be one addict. And that’s not even counting the 3.5 million other occasional users.

Not only is every family affected. Every barangay rich or poor also harbors its share of shabu users and pushers. Not only the most accessible districts of Metro Manila but the remotest sitios as well of such towns as Simunul in Tawi-Tawi.

Shabu can be bought anywhere and everywhere - at school gates or burger joints, in dark alleys or even police camps. And cheap, too. Time was when a barkada of four would pitch in for a bottle of "cuatro-cantos" or "long neck." Not anymore. For only P100, they can easily procure enough of the white powder to guarantee a whole night’s high.

Police, military and Malacañang officials have good reason to rank narcotrade as a serious threat to national security, next only to the communist insurgency and Moro secession, and probably worse than Abu Sayyaf pseudo-Islamic liberationist-kidnappers. More than half of heinous crime incidents are drug-related. The economic slowdown is tempting more and more destitute folk into drug-peddling for quick, big bucks. Widespread addiction is turning a huge chunk of the youth into weaklings - dopes with flawed morals and work ethics. The problem is all the more magnified by findings of the National Intelligence Board that corrupt Chinese Army generals run the Triads that ship raw and processed shabu around East Asia via the surrounding waters of the Spratlys.

It’s even worse than that. The Triads had grown so bold in the past five years that they now operate eight narcodistribution syndicates in RP. Charts from the Intelligence Service-AFP show that each syndicate imports and distributes roughly 20 kilos of shabu per month, worth P400 million, through a network of wholesalers, dealers and street pushers. The drug trade thus reaches a volume of P3.2 billion a month - double if locally processed shabu is calculated too.

That volume of dirty money has enabled the syndicates to grow in influence. At first buying protection from barangay officials and low-ranking policemen, they now maintain stables of fiscals, judges and police generals in their overlapping distribution territories. That’s how dealers and pushers have managed not only to post bail for nonbailable cases, but also buy acquittal or escape from prison. That’s why drug-crazed rapists outnumber drug lords four-to-one in Death Row. When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo raised the alarm about narcopolitics during the recent election campaign - a warning that opposition pols poh-poohed as mere partisan politicking - she was basing her words from ISAFP reports that drug syndicates were funding several candidates for mayor, governor, congressman and senator, and their dagdag-bawas operations, too. Arroyo was also trying to prevent the transformation of RP into a narcostate, in which drug cartels control presidential palaces and legislatures in Colombia and Bolivia, and entire provinces in Peru and Ecuador.

In Colombia, the government and citizens woke up to the drug menace only after the cartels assassinated more than 300 crusading police officers, justices and journalists by the busloads. Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador were able to reduce their cocaine production last year with US economic aid and CIA-supervised aerial herbicide spraying. But the reduction was offset by a doubling of harvests by Colombia’s Medellin cartel. Today in the four Latin American states, citizens know that despite the war against drugs, many of their officials are still on the take from drug lords. Pushers still openly sell crack and ice in the streets, and the cartels still deliver planeloads of coke through the US southern borders.

Same with RP, where Filipinos know their officials are on the take, too. In the wake of the Senate’s rowdy hearing last Friday in which ISAFP chief Col. Vic Corpus was prevented from presenting drug-trafficking evidence against Sen. Ping Lacson, cellphone text messages spread. The tips not only repeated Corpus’s revelation that Sen. Tito Sotto had at one time asked for police security for a suspected drug lord, they also matched three other senators with other narcodistributors in Manila, Caloocan and Cebu cities.

US authorities compare their Mafia problem with Colombia’s feeble fight against the Medellin cartel. For years, State department chief on Latin American affairs Bernard Aronson notes, everybody knew that the Mob in New York controlled everything from the docks to trucks, yet it thrived openly. "Like the Columbians" he says, "first we went through a period of denial. Then we went through a period of dealing with it that was ineffective. Then, finally, through the RICO Law and tough prosecutors, we learned how to coordinate our efforts and make progress." He wishes the same would happen to Columbia. Corpus and his fellow crusaders wish it would come true in RP, too.

But the fight is just beginning here. High officials appear reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of RP turning into a narcostate, much more launch a full-scale narcowar. The farthest most officials would admit is the spread of jueteng gambling, not drugs. This, despite revelations of then-Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson and former finance secretary Ed Espiritu during Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial that jueteng is just the tip of an iceberg of shabu.

Thus, narcocrusaders are dreaming of the day when the US would also help RP fight the shabu syndicates. After all, shabu has managed to enter the US West Coast in shipments from Manila to Guam via circuitous routes through Europe and the Near East.

In the meantime, drug-watch analysts are bracing for the use of shabu and drug money to promote certain political activities. UN officials had discovered that drug lords funded the racial massacres in West and East Timor, and the pre-teen guerrilla leaders in Burman’s border with Thailand. Drugs also pepped up the ethnic rioters in Jakarta. A repeat of an attempted power grab – backed by a mob like last May Day’s in which one out of every three Malacañang attackers was high on shabu – may not be far-fetched.
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You can e-mail comments to jariusbondoc@workmail.com

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