Report volume, not value of shabu interdictions
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Big news last Sunday: P5 million worth of shabu in 11 re-sealable pouches was seized in a Pasay City police raid. A bum who hears that may ponder, “I could use even only a slice of that kind of money.” One percent, P50,000 in one blow, is five times what he’ll make from a month’s manual labor. Temptation is big for him to just peddle drugs in the streets. More so if he already is a druggie and knows others, say 11 ready buyers. He could get killed doing it; but then he’s already wasting away from hunger and idleness.

“P5 million”, cash that most Filipinos have yet to see, tends to over-impress. It conjures an illusion that the cops are winning the drug war. Operatives can get commendations for that. More so if the amounts are bigger. In 2013, 13 Pampanga raiders interdicted a whopping P155 million shabu and were promoted for it. Only last Oct. in a Senate inquiry was it publicized that they actually had confiscated nearly 200 kilos of the illegal stuff – but recycled 160 of it into the streets for P650 million through a syndicate at the National Penitentiary.

Valuations of drug seizures can mislead anti-drug generals. Last week the Philippine National Police nabbed P2.5 billion of the illegal white powder in a Makati City hideout. It was the biggest drug bust of the year. A long-surveilled Chinese drug lord was arrested. Thirty-seven more kilos were taken from two distributors in a dragnet in nearby Las Piñas City. Yet, according to the PNP itself, the total 388 kilos was a drop in the bucket of the crystal meth market.

Shabu consumption is far bigger. So said Col. Romeo Caramat Jr., head of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group, in a press briefing last weekend about the operation. By PDEG’s recent recalculation, he revealed, three million hardcore addicts snort one gram of shabu per week. That’s a staggering three million grams, or 3,000 kilos – three tons per week.

The value of that shabu market is P25 billion a week, Caramat said. That’s why criminals persist in narco-trafficking.

But the value is unimportant. It can fluctuate, depending on the supply. In June-July last year, the Mega Manila retail price of shabu suddenly dropped to P1,400-P1,800 per gram, from the usual P6,800-upwards. There apparently was a market deluge, said Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency director general Aaron Aquino then. His hunch was proven in early Aug., when PDEA agents discovered four emptied magnetic lifters in an abandoned warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. Sniffer dogs detected traces of shabu in the hollow metal cylinders. Warehousemen reported that in early June seven men, two of them Chinese who had leased the property in April, had pried the lifters open with electric saw then drove off with the contents. The lifters were of similar fabrication as two others interdicted three days earlier at the Manila piers. Customs-Manila netted 500 kilos of shabu worth P3.4 billion. But weighing the cargo container and metal lifters against the declared import mass, it appeared that 1,600 kilos in Cavite, thrice more than captured in Manila, had slipped past authorities. The supposed P11-billion value is meaningless, considering the street price drop.

Still the two contrabands in the total six metal lifters – 2,100 kilos in all – was but a few days’ consumption. The biggest drug bust of 2018 was for less than a week’s usage of 3,000 kilos. Caramat highlighted this by concluding that last week’s big bust had nothing to do with last year’s. The 1,199 kilos that got away must have been snorted long ago.

PDEA’s drug war record, #RealNumbersPH from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019, tells the stark story:

• 134,583 anti-drug operations;

• 193,086 drug personalities arrested;

• 7,054 high-value targets arrested;

• 5,526 drug personalities killed in shootouts;

• 334 drug dens dismantled;

• 14 clandestine labs dismantled;

• P34.75 billion worth of drugs seized;

• 4,409 kilos of shabu seized.

Note that last item. Only 4,409 kilos – a week-and-a-half’s consumption – seized in 156 deadly weeks.

From this extrapolation, the anti-drug generals can re-strategize. As former PNP chief now senator Panfilo Lacson had counseled VP Leni Robredo, the war should focus on the supply-side as it does on the street demand. By severely constricting the shabu supply, the street price would become too prohibitive for the pusher to sell and the user to buy.

Police raids and buy-busts are necessary. By training, orientation and equipage, those are what policemen can do. The arrest of pushers to squeal on their distributors is able to net pinpoint high-value targets.

But to smash the supply side, other agencies and operations are needed. The shabu comes from the Golden Triangle tri-border of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, financed by Chinese Triads, and smuggled in from China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. PDEG’s Caramat and PDEA’s Aquino separately said there are no more domestic lab manufactories. Meaning, Customs, PNP Maritime Command, and Coast Guard must be stricter in monitoring ship landings. Indonesia last year netted its biggest drug haul ever, 1.6 tons of “shabu-shabu”, days after the interdiction of one ton. The landings were made by ships from mainland Asia that had delivered cargo to as far as Australia before sailing to Indonesia. The Philippines and Indonesia exchange intelligence info on narco-trade.

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