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    Southeast Asia
     Mar 24, 2010
Manila losing its battle with drugs
By Cristian Segura

BEIJING - The Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) keeps a special trophy beside the basketball court at its headquarters in Manila. It's a silver BMW that was owned by Antonio Kcomt, a notorious Chinese-Canadian cocaine and ecstasy dealer.

Kcomt was racing the sedan through Quezon City last August when PDEA agents shot him dead after a high-speed chase. The agency keeps the bullet-holed BMW as a reminder of what it can achieve despite staffing and funding problems, and despite the upward spiral of drug-related crime in the Philippines.

The PDEA employs about 600 agents, but estimates it needs three times that figure to win the battle against drug trafficking in the Philippines, which is worth an estimated 300-400 billion pesos

  

a year (US$6-8 billion). The Philippines has in recent years become a regional hub for drug syndicates from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as well as the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Fujian.

Shabu, a methamphetamine notorious throughout Southeast Asia, is manufactured in the Philippines, which has also become a major transshipment point for drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana that are made abroad.

This is partly due to the country's geography: the Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 islands that has historical trade links with Southeast Asia and China. The narcotics problem is made worse by widespread corruption and a lack of the government resources needed to police borders.

The PDEA's director general, Dionisio R Santiago, says Chinese drug syndicates have made the Philippines their hunting ground. "In terms of drug trafficking, the Chinese are everywhere," he said. Seven large international drug syndicates are active in the country, apart from over 200 domestic outfits, according to Derrick Carreon, the PDEA's press officer.

Shabu is made in small "kitchen" labs capable of making three kilograms of methamphetamine crystals each day. The laboratories became smaller and more discreet after the PDEA began working with China's tough Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) in 2006.

Beijing stepped in because shabu was being smuggled into China. PDEA chief Santiago says his agency was unable to stop the flow. "Our country lacks the resources to patrol the coast and these syndicates try to use the opportunity." He says that working with the Chinese authorities is "complex".

"They do not allow us to interview the Filipinos in Chinese jails, a procedure that is common between other countries. This is a pity because inmates will always talk more easily with officers from their own country than with the Chinese," said Santiago, a retired general.

Louis, a former shabu addict and drug dealer from Malolos, a city two hours north of Manila, says that while pushers are usually Filipinos, the people in charge are mostly Chinese.

"They are never seen because they are well protected by corrupt politicians, policemen or judges. I had a 'protector' at the police station, an agent who stopped others catching me," said Louis.

Cindy D Ang, executive director of Philcadsa, an anti-drug coalition of 20 non-governmental organizations, says corruption is partly to blame. "If there is a culture of corruption at all levels, as in the Philippines, drug-related criminality spreads faster."

A number of high-profile politicians in the Philippines have been implicated in the drug trade.

Last February, Le Peng Wee, a cabinet secretary under former president Joseph Estrada, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug smuggling. A month earlier the director general of the Philippine National Police during the Estrada era, Panfilo Lacson, fled to Hong Kong after an arrest warrant was issued for alleged links to Chinese drug lords.

Santiago says Philippine crime syndicates have connections with Chinese mafias because China "is currently the biggest market" for drugs.

In December 2009, Chinese authorities tipped off authorities in the Philippines about a ship carrying two tons of cocaine that was passing through the Philippines' territorial waters on its way to China. Two tons of cocaine would have a street value of around US$350 million. Though the ship's crew was alerted and dumped most of the shipment overboard, the PDEA was still able to seize 300 kilograms of cocaine.

Aside from collaborating on stopping shipments, the Philippines and China also have to deal with nearly 200 Filipinos currently jailed in China for drugs smuggling. Among the 66 facing the death penalty are 53 women. The PDEA say they are likely from poorer families and were duped into becoming drug mules.

Almost all Filipino drug carriers are recruited by Africans, especially Nigerians, according to the PDEA. Santiago says that West African syndicates are established in the country and receive shipments from Africa. They persuade or fool poorer Filipinos into becoming drug mules, promising them jobs abroad.

"We have encountered situations where the African dealer was introduced to girls' families as a boyfriend or even a priest devoted to finding job opportunities for young Filipinos," said Carreon.

However, when asked about the status of these women by Asia Times Online, officials from China's NNCC said they were too busy to discuss the case and "this is information that we can't make public".

Santiago also told Agence France-Presse in January that his agency has received reports that Muslim rebels use drug profits to fund their insurgency.

Santiago said drug laboratories had also been found in areas where separatist Muslim guerrillas were operating, with some 30 million pesos worth of marijuana seized on another southern island from the Abu Sayyaf group of rebels in 2008.

"Just imagine how many guns that money could buy for the Abu Sayyaf," Santiago told the news agency.

Cristian Segura is a European journalist based in Beijing.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


The Philippines as a narco-state
(Jan 17, '09)

 

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