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US says drug rings using OFWs as couriers

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:59:00 01/04/2011

Filed Under: Illegal drugs, Overseas Employment, Foreign affairs & international relations, Government offices & agencies

MANILA, Philippines?Sophisticated transnational drug-trafficking syndicates?including a West African group using overseas Filipino workers as couriers?remain the biggest challenge to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and other agencies involved in the campaign against illegal drugs, according to a report from the US State Department.

From only three in 2008, the number of foreign-based drug organizations operating in the Philippines has increased to nine, according to the department?s 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

?The West African drugs syndicate continues to infiltrate the Philippines with their operations. There is an increase in the recruitment of OFWs to smuggle cocaine and heroin in and out of the country,? said the report which was posted on the website of the US embassy in Manila.

These drug couriers ?smuggle and transport illegal drugs to China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Several Filipinos, mostly women, are jailed abroad for drug trafficking and face severe prison sentences, including the death penalty in countries such as China,? it also said.

Billion-dollar industry

The report noted that although the Philippines is not a regional financial center, the illegal drug trade in the country has evolved into a billion-dollar industry, valued at over $8.4 billion (about P368.2 billion) a year.

It said the illegal drug industry here is fueled by foreign-organized criminal activities from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; insurgency groups that partially fund their activities through local crime and the trafficking of narcotics and arms, engaging in money laundering through ties to organized crime; and the proceeds of official or bureaucratic corruption which are also a source of laundered funds.

?Wholesale quantities of crystal methamphetamine (commonly known as shabu) are smuggled into the Philippines and continues to be manufactured clandestinely in the country,? the State Department said.

?Precursor chemicals are smuggled into the country from China, India and Taiwan through international airports, seaports, the mails, as well as via large unpatrolled expanses of the Philippine coastline,? it said.

PH transshipment point

Traffickers take advantage of the Philippines? long and porous maritime borders to use the country as a transit point for high-grade cocaine and heroin shipments, primarily originating from India and Pakistan, the report said.

Chinese and Taiwanese remain the most influential foreign drug-trafficking groups in the Philippines and control domestic methamphetamine production, the State Department said.

Their chemists continue to establish clandestine laboratories in the Philippines for the manufacture of methamphetamine, it said.

?These traffickers typically produce methamphetamine in relatively small-scale clandestine meth labs commonly referred to as ?kitchen-type? labs, which more easily avoid detection by law enforcement authorities,? it said.

Shabu ?ranks first in availability and remains the primary drug of choice in the Philippines,? where approximately 95 percent of arrested drug users are addicted to the illegal drug.

According to the 2009 United Nations World Drug Report, the Philippines ?ranks fifth in the world in terms of methamphetamine hydrochloride seizures in the last 10 years and has remained a significant source of high-potency crystalline methamphetamine used both domestically and exported to locations in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania.?

The Philippines is also a primary source of shabu for Hawaii and Guam, said the US State Department.

But it noted that ?intensified nationwide counter-narcotics operations by Philippine law enforcement agencies have apparently contributed to a reduction in drug supply, inasmuch as drug prices have been erratic in areas of increased enforcement.?

Law enforcement efforts

The Philippine government was cited for making anti-narcotics law enforcement one of its top priorities, with law enforcement agencies such as PDEA, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and Bureau of Customs actively pursuing counter-narcotics enforcement operations.

But though each agency is diligent in its efforts to carry out its mission, ?their efforts are hampered by a lack of inter-agency cooperation at higher levels. Severe budgetary constraints also restrict operations and training,? it said.

PDEA, for instance, ?remains too small to address the entire nation?s problems with the trafficking and sale of illicit drugs. It currently relies on other agencies for personnel assistance.?

?However, PDEA has established stronger regulatory guidelines and practices, and if provided necessary resources, should continue to develop into an effective drug enforcement agency,? it said.

The PNP?s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force ?has been an effective drug law enforcement unit and scored several successes in 2009,? according to the State Department.

NBI?s small role

Compared with the PDEA and PNP, the NBI ?has played a smaller role in drug enforcement due to its very limited manpower and multi-mission focus. However, its investigative and technical expertise is vital to the overall Philippine counter-narcotics efforts, especially in more complex investigations,? the US agency said.

The State Department said Washington plans to continue working with the Philippine government in the ?training of anti-narcotics personnel, intelligence-gathering and infrastructure development.?

?Strengthening bilateral counter-narcotics relationship serves the national interests of both the US and the Philippines,? it added.



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