The war against illegal drugs trafficking
- Charlie A. Agatep () - December 8, 2011 - 12:00am

Drug addiction is the scourge of humanity and drug trafficking is a heinous crime punishable by death. Yet many Filipinos, mostly female domestic helpers, nurses, teachers and displaced overseas workers (OFWs) are lured by international drug syndicates to transport illegal drugs to other countries in exchange for money or the promise of a job abroad.

On February 18, 2011, Filipinos Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Ramon Credo and Elizabeth Batain (who were arrested separately in China in 2008 for carrying packages of at least four kilograms of heroin, and who were prosecuted and convicted as drug traffickers in 2009), were meted the death penalty by lethal injection.

A Philippine diplomatic mission led by Vice President Jejomar Binay gave the Filipinos a temporary stay of their execution. However, the Chinese Supreme Court finally decided to resume carrying out the death penalty on March 30, 2011.  

Today, December 8, another Filipino is waiting to be executed for trying to smuggle heroin into Guangxi province from Malaysia. The Philippine government appealed to China for commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment. It is doubtful that our government will succeed, however, because smuggling of more than 50 grams of heroin into China is absolutely punishable by death.  

According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), drug mules transport heroin, shabu, cocaine or marijuana mostly to China (90%), Hong Kong (9%) and Taiwan (1%). Drugs are often hidden in suitcases, luggage, shoes or handbags, ingested or swallowed using latex balloons and capsules, or strapped to the body. Some are even inserted to the body through minor surgical operations. Filipino females are the preferred drug couriers because they pose lesser detection risk from authorities.

In recruiting drug mules, the modus operandi of recruiters is to befriend potential victims with high-paying job offers, or an offer to marry the recruit, or meet through casual acquaintance or social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space. They even engage travel agents and tour operators to arrange airline and hotel bookings and use fake credit cards and documents to quickly facilitate transactions.

In September 2011, the PDEA recorded some 700 drug smuggling cases involving Filipinos around the world — 83 of these drug couriers faced possible death while the rest were languishing in jail.  

Recognizing the growing number of Filipino drug mules and the menace of drug trafficking to society, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the PDEA have joined hands to educate the public on the modus operandi of drug smuggling syndicates, how to avoid being a drug courier, and what to do or where to seek help when recruited as a drug courier.

From January to September this year, the PIA and PDEA have conducted more than 200 public fora and press conferences in the various regions of the country. The discussions served to inform the public about how drug trafficking syndicates operate, how they recruit Filipinos to become drug mules and the ways by which drugs are concealed.

Close to 20,000 individuals from the academe, local government, labor, religious and media sectors have participated in the meetings. Thousands of high school and college students trooped to the conferences to learn more about the drug mule issue. This created a multiplier effect when they shared their knowledge about the drug smuggling issue with their families and friends.

The PIA has harnessed the powers of traditional and social media to highlight the ill-effects of drugs to one’s health, and the latest modus operandi of drug smuggling syndicates. The government information network has crafted and published or broadcast hundreds of news releases to cite the helplessness of Filipino drug mules and warned the public against fake travel perks, monetary rewards and job opportunities offered by drug smuggling syndicates. It has also produced 30-second TV and radio plugs that were aired over 5,000 times in 14 free TV channels and 48 cable channels nationwide and broadcast in excess of 10,000 times over 96 radio stations nationwide.

In addition, the PIA had placed thousands of posters in strategic areas such as airports, seaports, public markets, local government offices, government buildings and other private establishments, schools and churches. The PIA also created a Facebook page and posted some 200 situationer reports to provide .updates on the drug smuggling issue, especially since international drug trafficking syndicates began eyeing unsuspecting users of Facebook and other social networking sites. The Facebook page is also a venue to showcase the government’s initiatives to solve the problem.

Even the Catholic Church under Archbishop Angel Lagdameo had been approached by the PIA for assistance in the war against illegal drug trafficking. The good archbishop issued a circular to Catholic priests enjoining Catholics to support the fight against the drug courier problem. Pastoral letters were read during homilies in various churches in the region.

There is hope that the anti-drug courier campaign of the PIA is succeeding. Letters of commendation have poured in from various government agencies, expressing their appreciation to PIA for creating awareness on the drug mule issue and instilling among Filipinos utmost vigilance against drug smuggling syndicates.

As a result of PIA’s campaign to weaken the drug trafficking trade, only 14 Filipino drug mules were reported this year, compared to 78 arrests in 2010. This represents a significant 82% drop in incidence of drug smuggling involving Filipinos.

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