he recent Christmas Day
police raid on a drug storage facility in a ranch in Lipa, Batangas yielded not only P420
million pesos ($10 million) worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu)
drugs but also the discovery of a major new player in the Philippine drug
"The Mexicans are here. This is the first time that we have confirmed it," Philippine National Police (PNP) Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias announced in a press briefing held the day following the raid along with news of the filing of criminal drug charges against individuals “accordingly affiliated” with the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel. Among those charged were two Mexican citizens ("Jaime" and "Joey") and Jorge Gomez Torres, a Filipino American with a US passport, who rented the ranch from Leviste and who returned to the US the week before the raid.
The Sinaloa drug cartel is considered the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the West. It has been the major player in the bloody drug war in Mexico that has claimed the lives of 77,000 Mexicans since 2006.
It is not yet known how the entry of the Mexican drug cartel will impact the Philippine drug market that has long been dominated by the Chinese drug cartels. The competition could be bloody or friendly. PNP Chief Gen. Alan Purisima believes the Sinaloa cartel is getting help from certain Chinese drug traffickers to establish operations in the Philippines.
This cooperation may result from the fact that most of the drugs used by the Mexican drug cartels come from China. Just recently, US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents intercepted a shipment of 3 tons of methylamine chloride at the Los Angeles International Airport on a transit flight from China to Mexico. The drugs were set to be manufactured into methamphetamine in Mexico and sold on the streets of the US.
As the Stars and Stripes newspaper of the US military noted, “an explosion in such chemical ingredients from China has made it clear that the U.S. meth problem is no longer just about local police and homemade drug labs in the heartland. A global manufacturing and trafficking network now spans the Pacific, connecting Chinese chemical factories, bloody drug cartels in Mexico and users in the United States, according to defense and drug enforcement officials.”
Not only drug users in the US, but also in the Philippines. According to Sen. Vicente Sotto, former chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, there are approximately 1.6 million drug dependents in the Philippines, half of whom use shabu. Others estimate that the percentage of shabu users is closer to 90%.
“If 800,000 drug users sniff a gram of shabu a week at P1,800 a gram for one year, “the amount will run into the billions,” he said. By Sotto’s formula, shabu sales in the Philippines would annually reach more than P77.76 billion (almost $2 billion).
British filmmaker Martin Butler, who traveled all over the Philippines interviewing shabu addicts in 2007, believes the actual figure is closer to seven million Filipino shabu addicts.
SEEKING DEA ASSISTANCE
PNP Chief Gen. Purisima said his agency is working with the DEA to track down and arrest Torres, the Filipino-American conduit of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, and their cohorts in the Philippines. He will not need to travel far as he can meet with the DEA agents at the US Embassy in Manila. I know the DEA has agents at the US Embassy in Manila because I met them in 2003.
In my last column, LINK, I described my personal encounter with Sen. Panfilo Lacson at the TV talk show, Strictly Politics, on January 21, 2003. The morning after the show, I received a call from a man who identified himself as an official at the US Embassy in Manila who wanted to meet with me.
Perhaps the US Embassy was just concerned about my safety given Lacson’s reputation for making his enemies disappear, I thought. So I arrived promptly at the gate of the US Embassy in Manila at the appointed hour and the officer was there to escort me to his office. Inside the heavily fortified back office of the US Embassy, I was led to a room, where another officer was watching the tail end of a videotape of my run in with Lacson the night before.
“You didn’t go to law school in the Philippines, did you?” he asked as I nodded and he explained that he guessed so because no one locally would talk to Sen. Lacson as I did and still expect to be breathing. I laughed, nervously.
The two gentlemen then introduced themselves as DEA agents assigned to the US Embassy in Manila. Their interest was not about my welfare but in securing my information about Lacson’s assets in the US.
PHILIPPINES AS A NARCO STATE
They explained that they had been investigating Lacson for some time and
that they had accumulated information about Lacson’s connections with the
drug cartels in Hong Kong and in China.
They said that the Chinese smuggle the ethyl phenyl acetate drugs into the Philippines where they are then used in the making of the methamphetamine drug popularly known as shabu.
“When he was PNP Chief, Lacson was the main protector of the Chinese drug cartels,” one DEA officer said.
The officers shared their fear that if Lacson was to ever be elected president of the Philippines, he would turn the country into a “narco state”, like Colombia. This would mean Filipino tourists can expect to be regularly searched at US airports for being potential drug mules.
This explained to me why Lacson did not use his pork barrel allotment as other senators did during his 12 years as senator. He simply did not need it.
I recalled then that in June of 2002, three Philippine Senate committees had conducted extensive hearings on Lacson’s involvement in drug trafficking. Among the witnesses who testified was Mary “Rosebud” Ong, an undercover PNP officer who described how the PNP under Gen. Lacson had become a “revolving door” where drugs seized one day were back in the streets the following day.
Rosebud accused Lacson of working with and for the “14K”, the largest and most violent of the Hong Kong-based triad societies engaged in large-scale drug trafficking. Founded in 1945 by 14 members of the Kuomintang who then fled to Hong Kong following the victory of the Communists in 1949, the 14K triad has grown and expanded into mainland China; where its members regularly cross from HK to avoid police security.
The three senate committees had drafted a joint 100 page report (Senate Committee Report No. 66) whose release Sen. Lacson had succeeded in blocking. “Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday succeeded in blocking the adoption of Senate Committee Report No. 66 which recommended that he be indicted for the capital offense of kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling and summary executions.” (“Lacson Blocks Senate Inquiry Report About Him” Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 6, 2003).
In successfully blocking the release of the damaging senate report, Lacson was aided by Sen. Loren Legarda, then Senate majority floor leader. Philippine Daily Inquirer Columnist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan explained her likely motive. “Current talk is that Legarda has not acted on it (Report 66) in order to protect Lacson, who has invited her to be his running mate” (“Let’s have that report,” June 25, 2003).
PAPER FAN: THE SEARCH FOR THE TRIAD MOBSTER
During this same time period, Canadian journalist Terry Gould arrived in the Philippines in search of Steven Wong, a Chinese mobster who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada in 1992 for masterminding a heroin conspiracy. While out on bail awaiting trial where he faced a possible 20 year sentence, Wong convinced a Vancouver judge to give him his passport. After he left Vancouver, Wong’s parents claimed that he had been killed in an accident in the Philippines and they had an “official death certificate” from the Philippines to prove it.
The Canadian authorities never believed that Wong actually died and Gould made it his personal mission to search for Wong, an investigation which he chronicled in a book, “Paper Fan: The Hunt for Triad Gangster Steven Wong”, (Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, 2004).
His search for Wong brought Gould to the Philippines where he met with Sen. Lacson, a meeting which is described in several chapters of his book. The website of the book, LINK, carries this description:
“At one critical point, the former chief of the Philippine National Police, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, was working closely with Gould, and seemed to be the key to finally nabbing Wong. A failed revolution backed by Lacson interrupted the hunt and once again Wong slipped away, or perhaps Lacson was only going through the motions of catching Wong. According to a Philippine Senate investigation Gould recounts in Paper Fan, Lacson may not have been the crusader against organized crime and corruption he claimed to be, but up to his eyeballs with the 14K.”
Lacson’s purported connection “up to his eyeballs with the 14K” may explain how Lacson was able to successfully elude capture by Interpol while hiding out in Hong Kong from December 2009 until March 2011 after an arrest warrant was issued for him for the murder of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Emmanuel Corbito. His involvement with the 14K triad in Hong Kong is certainly not included in the fictionalized Robin Padilla fantasy film “10,000 Hours”.
THE SCOURGE OF SHABU
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified the Philippines as one of the world's leading methamphetamine producers, and a major exporter of the illegal party drug to the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia (Asian Pacific Post, January 10, 2010).
The UNODC noted in its 314 page report that the Philippines ranked only behind China and the United States, which have considerably larger populations, in the number of meth seizures within its borders. The report noted that while many countries manufactured shabu, China, Burma and the Philippines accounted for most of the production over the past decade.
“Easy to make, cheap to buy, and highly addictive, the Philippines is now dealing with its own meth scourge as shabu---the Philippine name for crystal meth---reportedly the new drug of choice of over 90 per cent of Filipino drug users, from college dorms to rural farms.,” the UNODC report added.
In his film about shabu addiction in the Philippines, filmmaker Martin Butler interviewed a number of addicts like “Marybeth Basura” who was sentenced to life imprisonment for selling $70 of shabu. Around her cell were other female inmates also serving life sentences for selling shabu. She said her 11-year old son was selling scrap metal to raise money to bail her out before he was told that it’s too late.
While there are thousands of poor Filipinos like Marybeth serving life sentences for their shabu addiction, there are likely no Chinese drug lords in Philippine prisons. On the day of the execution of three Filipino drug mules by the Chinese government on March 30, 2011, Philippine radio talk show host Ramon Tulfo asked what happens to Chinese nationals arrested in the Philippines for drug trafficking.
One anonymous caller, who identified himself as an employee of the Philippine Court of Appeals, answered the question. As Tulfo recounted the following day in his On Target column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the caller said: "The Chinese would be acquitted by the appellate court. In fact, many Chinese serving time at the National Penitentiary have been released after they were acquitted by the Court of Appeals.”
In other words, as Tulfo explained, “if you get convicted by the lower court for drug pushing or trafficking in this country, don’t despair because the appellate court will set you free for the right price." Unfortunately, Marybeth’s son cannot sell enough scrap metal to pay “the right price”.
Before Pres. Aquino was sworn in as president on July 1, 2010, John “Boboy” Shinn III, author of “Shabu in America” and LA Zamboanga Times editor, expressed his “fervent hope that the Philippine government—under the administration of President Noynoy Aquino—will take the country's illegal drug problem just as seriously as the problems of insurgency and poverty he will face at the start of his six-year term… because it threatens to destroy not only the lives of our nation's future, but also the very moral fiber of our society as a nation.” (LINK to Mr. Shinn's article)
I am sorry, Mr. Shinn, that Pres. Aquino did not heed your advice to take the country’s illegal drug problem as seriously as any of our other top national problems.
Mr. President, I urge you to please secure a copy of Senate Report # 66 and
read it carefully and then reconsider your appointment of Panfilo Lacson as
Rehab Czar which puts him in a position to be a viable candidate for
president in 2016. Surely you must love the Philippines enough that you
would not want to turn it into a narco state.
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