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Opinion

P13.3 billion single biggest drug bust is peanuts

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Police love to trumpet multibillion-peso drug busts. Example was last week’s P13.3-billion interdiction of shabu at a checkpoint in Batangas.

President Bongbong Marcos at once chest-thumped that it was the country’s single biggest haul ever. He likely fell for the narc’s ruse of blowing up amounts in order to get rewards and promotions.

The narcs rustled up the amount of P13.3 billion after estimating the contraband at 2,000 kilos. But that figure can deflate. Street values rise or fall depending on shabu availability. Had the 2,000 kilos reached the market, shabu would have cheapened as distributors and pushers try to sell it fast.

Volume, not value, is the better gauge of success. But because of their fixation with peso amounts, the narcs overlooked the necessity to first weigh the contraband. Two days after the Batangas seizure, they admitted that it was only 1,400 kilos after all, worth only P9.68 billion.

The Duterte admin also obsessed with amounts. After three years of bloody drug war, it came out with “Real Numbers.” From July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019, it seized P34.75 billion worth of illegal drugs.

That P34.75 billion was used over and over to justify the killing of 7,000 drug suspects. Many were fooled into believing that the Duterte drug war was winning.

But the volume showed the opposite. Less publicized was that the P34.75 billion represented only 4,409 kilos.

Why do I say “only?” Here’s why.

In November 2019 the PNP Drug Enforcement Group reported that three million hardcore addicts snorted a gram of shabu per week. That’s three million grams or 3,000 kilos consumed per week.

Meaning, the 4,409 kilos it seized was only a week-and-a-half’s shabu consumption.

Meaning, in 156 weeks or three years of supposedly intense drug war, the Duterte admin barely scratched the surface.

The ballyhooed P34.75-billion value of the 4,409 kilos translated to a street value of P7.882 million per kilo.

Multiply P7.882 million by 3,000 kilos weekly consumption. The weekly narco-trade then – likely up to now – was P23.646 billion a week.

That’s why the Duterte admin’s P34.75-billion total haul in three years was a drop in the bucket.

More so last week’s supposed single biggest ever drug haul of P13.3 billion, whittled down to P9.68 billion.

What the narcs should do is get real: capture 3,000 kilos a week.

How did 1.4 tons of shabu land in Batangas?
PNA

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Who’s in charge? The House ways and means committee asked that amid the rash of vape smuggling. Government is losing billions of pesos to contrabandists. Yet executive agencies dither on the Vape Law.

The committee prodded the Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to get their act together. There’s a “vapedemic.”

The Philippine Pediatric Society found that 11 percent of students aged 10 to 15 have tried vapes. The Dept. of Education reported that 6.7 percent of Grades 7-9 students toke e-cigarettes. Youth’s top reasons for vaping were: online accessibility, 32 percent; flavor, 22 percent and belief that it’s safer than cigarettes, 17 percent.

In October 2023 the BOC seized 1.4 million pieces of 10 ml disposable vape pods in Valenzuela. Flava Corp. allegedly dodged P728 million in excise taxes. Penalty is ten times more, or P7.28 billion. The haul highlighted the ease with which e-cigarettes reach the hands and lungs of youngsters.

In March 2024 BOC interdicted P4.6 billion worth of smuggled vapes and ingredients in Malabon and Parañaque warehouses. The Flava brand was among those seized.

How come BOC failed to intercept the contraband at ports of entry? Why did these products reach warehouses outside Customs territory before seizure? Who’s letting in these big shipments?

German researcher Statista notes that e-cigarette sales hit P13.244 billion a year. That should earn P5.5-billion taxes. But the BIR in 2022 collected only P138 million from vapes.

Congress itemized tax rates on vape variants in January 2020 via R.A. 1146. The Vape Law, which regulates e-cigarettes, took effect July 2022. Four years hence BIR has not issued tax stamps on vapes to ensure collection. Last March it merely advised importers about forthcoming stamps. All this time vapes proliferated unrestricted.

Vape makers and importers mushroom by claiming to be listed with BIR. One manufacturer records as its factory a two-story residence in Sampaloc, Manila.

Congress told BIR to be stricter with vape product registration and regularly inspect manufacturing premises. As well, to assign personnel to audit factory outputs.

The Vape Law assigns DTI as primary regulator of manufacturing, importing, distributing and promoting. DTI must enforce health warnings, internal revenue markings and proof-of-age verification.

A check with an online selling platform revealed that various vapes and disposables are being sold unrestricted. DTI monitored in February that 63,000 of 69,000, or 90 percent of online stores were not compliant. Most violations were in product promotions, flavor descriptors and celebrity endorsements.

Smugglers exploit the different excise tax rates for vape liquids. Potent nicotine salts fetch P52 per ml, while weaker freebases are only P60 per 10 ml. Nicotine salt importers misdeclare their goods as freebase. During the committee hearings, DTI admitted incapability to determine vape liquid composition. It sought P170 million to set up testing facilities.

On March 15, DTI suspended Flava manufacturing, importation and distribution. But it has yet to go after online sellers.

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

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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