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Narcs focus campaign vs drug trade on Isabela city

/ 09:34 PM June 20, 2012

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya—Officials in Cagayan Valley have vowed to focus the government’s antidrug campaign on Santiago City, tagged as the trading center of illegal drugs in the region.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to draft a comprehensive plan to zero in on the illegal drug trade in the region’s premier city, especially on its role as the main drop-off point of illegal drugs sold in four of five provinces in Cagayan Valley.

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RPOC members were shocked that while Santiago City in Isabela has long been identified as a trading hub for illegal drugs, the government has achieved little progress in addressing the problem.

Nueva Vizcaya Bishop Ramon Villena,  the RPOC private sector representative, hinted on the possibility that even government agents may be in cahoots with drug dealers, which has led to the perceived failure of the government’s antidrug campaign.

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“It has become public knowledge that Santiago City is a drop-off point for drugs but  it has remained that way for years. I wonder if there is some sort of sabwatan (connivance) here,” he said.

Quirino Gov. Junie Cua, the RPOC chair, said all sectors belonging to the council should help more aggressively in removing Santiago City’s label as a trading center for illegal drugs.

“Notwithstanding the constitutional provision on the separation of the Church and state, [the antidrug campaign] is one area where both can collaborate. Priests can use the pulpit to rally our people in helping out in this endeavor,” Cua said.

In a report, PDEA identified at least 260 of the region’s 2,311 barangays as having illegal drugs-related problems, with Isabela topping the list with 113 and Cagayan with 93.

It said illegal drugs, mainly shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride), are brought into the region by bulk, through Santiago City. PDEA said drug dealers buy the illegal substance in Santiago City and sell this in smaller quantities in Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and even Ifugao.

Speaking for the Santiago City government, Benedict Panganiban, the city engineer, said it was unfair for the city to be singled out in the RPOC’s antidrug campaign.

He said the “drug trading center” label was an offshoot of Santiago City’s strategic location and its role as the region’s center of commerce.

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Juvenal Azurin, the PDEA regional director, blamed the agency’s lack of funds and facilities for its failure to launch a full-scale crackdown on the illegal drug trade in the region.

Agents, Azurin said, cannot even produce marked money that they can use for buy-bust operations.

In Ilocos, Edgar Apalla, the PDEA regional director, said Dagupan City is among the agency’s areas of concern in Pangasinan.

“This means that we really have to pay attention to it before the drug problem worsens,” Apalla said.

Mayor Benjamin Lim said based on intelligence reports, Dagupan is one of the drop-off points of illegal drugs coming from Metro Manila and Cavite.

“… Drop-off point because there are customers here and from here the illegal drugs are distributed to nearby towns,” Lim said.

Apalla said his agency has not established whether an illegal drug laboratory is operating in Pangasinan. But he said he is not discounting the possibility that it exists.

He said PDEA has a list of people involved in illegal drugs and the agency is closely monitoring their movements. “We would build up their cases. We cannot just arrest them because of some technicalities,” Apalla said. Melvin Gascon and Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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TAGS: Cagayan Valley, Drugs, Illegal drugs, Isabela
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