Refocus anti-drug war from users to suppliers
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 8, 2020 - 12:00am

Opinion is free; facts are sacred. It may not matter that VP Leni Robredo views the war on drugs as “total failure”, or that President Rody Duterte’s aides claim she is “only politicking”. The figures stare us in the face, as has been pointed up in this space (see Gotcha, 13 Nov. and 4 Dec. 2019). Those numbers come from official sources: PNP Drug Enforcement Group, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the President no less drawing from a slew of intelligence assets.

There are eight million shabu (meth) users, Duterte said last Feb. Three million of them are hardcore, each snorting a gram of the illegal white powder per week, PNP-DEG said Nov. That’s a weekly demand of three million grams – or 3,000 kilos. And PDEA’s #RealNumbers, July 1, 2016-June 30, 2019, three years or 156 weeks, stated:

• 134,583 anti-drug operations;

• 193,086 drug personalities arrested;

• 421,724 drug personalities surrendered;

• 7,054 high-value targets arrested;

• 5,526 drug personalities killed;

• 334 drug dens dismantled;

• 14 clandestine labs dismantled;

• 55 percent of 42,044 barangays cleared;

• P34.75 billion worth of drugs seized;

• 4,409 kilos of shabu seized.

That last item is most telling: 4,409 kilos of shabu seized equals 1.5 times the weekly demand. In effect, only one-and-a-half week’s demand of shabu was interdicted in 156 weeks of bloody, costly operations.

The street value of the drug haul – P34.75 billion, mostly shabu – may be insignificant. The weekly drug trade of 3,000 kilos is worth about P25 billion. That’s why syndicates persist in narco-trafficking, said PNP-DEG chief Col. Romeo Caramat Jr. in Nov.

Street values can mislead, as pointed out here before. It fluctuates, depending on the surfeit of supply, so is not a steady measure of mission accomplishment. At best, a haul of hundreds of millions of pesos can impress the brass enough into handing out medals. But, as in the notorious 2013 recycling of shabu by 13 Pampanga “ninja-cops”, the huge amount can distract attention from the crime. That case caused the early retirement of the PNP chief in 2019 – and now two months later Duterte still can’t find a suitable replacement.

Report volumes, not values, to reiterate a past suggestion. That way Filipinos can gauge the gains of the drug war being waged for their welfare. Take the biggest drug busts in the past three years:

• May 2019: P1 billion worth of shabu, hidden in tapioca starch from Cambodia. While the amount was staggering, it comprised only 146 kilos, or one-twentieth of the weekly demand. Customs at Manila International Container Terminal had not detected the stash in the abandoned shipment of starch. A forklift operator discovered it in the warehouse of the auction winner of the confiscated import.

• Feb. 2019: P1.9 billion in shabu, 274 kilos, less than one-tenth the weekly demand, raided by authorities in a Tanza, Cavite hide-out. Two Chinese were killed in shootout. Days later 36 kilos, worth P245 million, were seized in the house of a Chinese national in nearby Dasmariñas, Cavite.

• July 2018: P3.4 billion in shabu, 500 kilos, one-sixth of a week’s demand, discovered inside two magnetic lifters at the MICT. An estimated 1,600 kilos earlier had slipped past Customs. PDEA found the four emptied magnetic lifters only in Aug. in a warehouse in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. PDEA recovered parts of that P11-billion contraband in subsequent raids in Quezon City, Manila, Muntinlupa, Metro Manila. The shabu in magnetic lifters came from Vietnam and Thailand, via Malaysia and Hong Kong. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said all originated from the Golden Triangle, in the tri-boundary of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. Chinese Triads allegedly financed the narco-trade.

• May 2017: 604 kilos of shabu, one-fifth of weekly demand, valued at P6.5 billion. On a tip from Chinese counterparts, Customs belatedly raided a warehouse in Valenzuela, Metro Manila, where the contraband was hidden in metal printing cylinders. More such cylinders were unearthed in a raided condo in Manila, already emptied of 300 kilos of shabu.

Between those major hauls, police interdicted from buy-busts and raids only a few grams to about 40 kilos a day.

Shift the focus on the supply-end, Sen. Panfilo Lacson advised in Oct. Go after the bulk makers and distributors, not only street pushers. That would require skillful intelligence work.

Generals would do well to re-strategize. The painful truth must be told to Commander-in-Chief Duterte, despite strong temptation to do otherwise. Full info will enable him better to fight drugs and other crimes, including terrorism. Hiding the situation would spell disaster.

Solid intelligence, not propaganda, must guide anti-drug operations. The brass needs to avoid the habit of World War II German air intelligence chief Col. Joseph “Beppo” Schmid of embellishing his reports to the Luftwaffe’s Hermann Goering, who himself withheld bad news from Hitler. That in part was why, in countless analyses, they nearly lost the Battle for France and clearly lost the Battle for Britain.

*      *      *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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