COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - February 2, 2016 - 9:00am

It is quite alarming, to say the least, when Sen. Grace Poe boldly declared in public what many police and other law enforcement officials would soft-pedal before media. Understandably, because these police officials and top law enforcement authorities fear the repercussions to their career if they point to any political personalities who stray into the illegal drug trade to raise funds for election campaign.

Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, was quite direct. She minced no words to say such reality may already be happening on the ground during a roundtable discussion with The STAR editors, columnists and reporters last Monday.

A neophyte politician, Poe expressed her worst fears that narco-politics may have gained a foothold in the Philippines. Barely three years into office as senator, Poe is now seeking the highest office of the land as one of six presidential candidates in the coming May 9 elections.

Before her critics and supporters of other presidential wannabes accuse us of campaigning or endorsing her, let me state at the outset Poe came to The STAR editorial office as the third presidential candidate for the roundtable interviews before the official election campaign starts. Vice President Jejomar Binay and former interior secretary Mar Roxas II attended roundtable discussions at Port Area one after the other late last year.

If she makes it as president, Poe vows, among other things, to cut off narco-politics from establishing control in our country.

Narco-politics refers to the use of revenues from the illegal drug trade to influence the results of elections, especially at the local government level.

It brings to mind “Narcos,” a TV series I am currently watching at Netflix for trial subscription. This Netflix in “Narcos” series was based on the infamous Medellín drug cartel and dramatized the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents who hunted him down.

The story is told largely from the points of view of Escobar and one of the US DEA agents after him. The story begins with the early days of the drug battle of the US DEA agent when he used to go after “hippies in flip-flops” caught with up to a kilo of marijuana. Then, the illegal drug trade flourished and was more sophisticated. It turned violent as hundreds, if not thousands of lives were lost in bloody battles between members of the cartel peddling tons of kilos of cocaine and drug agents from Colombia, Mexico, and the US.

Escobar was first a petty smuggler of goods to and from Colombia and the US and went through his trade routes easily by bribing border police and military men as well as local officials. Escobar graduated into smuggling more lucrative but illegal cocaine most popular among drug users in the US.

Accumulating much money, Escobar dispensed funds, food and other assistance to poor folks in his town. Then he declared he would become president of his country. That was the third episode of this series that I was able to watch.

The uncanny parallelism of “Narcos” to the growing shabu trade here may ring true if Philippine authorities keep their heads down, if not turn a blind eye on such dark prospects.

Sounding out the alarm, Poe warned us about corrupt officials and unscrupulous politicians who have lost steady sources of funds with the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or the infamous “pork barrel.” She also pointed to the loss of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court declared illegal.

The fact that this coming May will be the first elections that would be fought by candidates sans the “benefits” of lawmakers’ PDAF makes the use of illegal drug money as campaign funds possible, Poe explained. Surely, it’s not far-fetched.

As a mother of three children, the 47-year-old Poe echoed the fears of many parents on the growing menace of drug trafficking, especially shabu, the so-called poor man’s cocaine smuggled in large volumes into the Philippines. Worse, she noted, there have been of late incidents involving local politicians also apparently in the illegal trade.

Her attention was caught by an incident in Iloilo after a privately owned radio station was attacked last Nov. 19, 2015. As caught on security camera, a group of 20 men attempted to barge in the Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo station building in Mandurriao district. It turned out two of those involved in the break-in of the radio station were suspected leaders of an illegal drug syndicate in Iloilo who were earlier arrested and jailed but were apparently on the loose.

The incident caught national interest after it was reported in media and to which Senators Poe and Nancy Binay filed separate resolutions calling for investigation into the incident. Incidentally, Iloilo is a known political bailiwick of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III. In fact, President Aquino led last year’s Independence Day celebration in Iloilo City.

Poe conducted last Dec. 10 the first public hearing of this incident in Iloilo City where the Senate committee on public order invited Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog of Iloilo City; Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr.; director general Arturo Cacdac Jr. of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA); Philippine National Police (PNP) regional director Paul Ledesma, and other local government and police officers and members of media in Iloilo City.

She resumed the public hearing yesterday at the Senate and was informed by the PDEA chief that indeed there has been an increase of arrests on illegal drugs involving police and local government officials last year. However, Cacdac noted the increase was not that dramatic compared with previous years’ records.

In 2015, the PDEA chief reported a total of 199 government officials were arrested for drug trafficking: 32 law enforcers, 64 barangay officials and 103 government employees. He compared this total to 190 arrests recorded in 2014; 138 in 2013; 65 in 2012, and 29 in 2011.

If this is the PDEA’s accomplishment report, we dread what was not reported.


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