By Ellson Quismorio
The House of Representatives through the Dangerous Drugs committee will hold an inquiry on drug syndicates’ alleged trafficking of cocaine in the country, the latest of which is the off-loading of P79.1-million worth of the drug off the waters of Isabela on February 5.
Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (second district, Surigao del Norte) committee chairman, said the probe is based on House Resolution (HR) No. 1674 filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas (first district, Ilocos Norte)
“Who are the drug syndicates or individuals responsible for dumping cocaine into our shores? Is the illegal drug intended for local consumption or are foreign drug syndicates just using the Philippines as a transshipment point to other destinations, or both?” Barbers asked.
“We need to know how Congress can help our anti-drug agencies cope with new skills and innovations being employed by seaborne drug smugglers, like appropriating funds for the acquisition of modern surveillance and tracking system,” the staunch Duterte ally added.
Upon assuming the Palace seat on June 30, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte launched an anti-illegal campaign the seriousness of which has never been seen before in the country.
Cocaine, one of the most dangerous drugs known to man, was initially developed as a painkiller. For thousands of years, people in South America have chewed and ingested coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca), the source of cocaine, for their stimulant effects, Barbers said.
He further described cocaine as a worldwide, multibillion-dollar enterprise, with users from all ages, occupations and economic levels, according to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The NIDA said once a person begins taking cocaine, it is almost impossible to become free from its grip, both physically and mentally. Only higher dosages and more frequent use can bring about the same stimulant effect.
The 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the US State Department said cocaine was rare in the Philippines due to high prices and limited demand.
Barbers however expressed alarm over reports of cocaine smuggling in the country, particularly the Isabela incident wherein smugglers were forced to dump their contraband in the water to avoid detection by law enforcers.
Fishermen later discovered the contraband, which weighed 18.84 kilos and was valued at P79.1 million. It was found on the shorelines of Barangay Dipudo in Divilacan town.
On January 3 in Matnog, Sorsogon, a package containing 25 individually wrapped pieces of cocaine worth P125 million was found.
The cocaine recovered in both provinces were both wrapped in packaging tape and had “R” markings.
On December 18, 2016, 18 bricks of cocaine worth P100 million were found floating about 100 meters off the shores of Tiwi, Albay, along Lagunoy Gulf.
In December 2009, 59 bricks of cocaine worth P300 million were found floating off the Leyte-Samar waters, particularly on the shorelines of Llorente, Balangkayan, San Policarpio and Maydolong towns in Eastern Samar.
Sleeping on the job
“Some offices are supposed to be involved in the detection, monitoring and interdiction of potential seaborne drug traffickers, but they appear to be sleeping on their jobs,” Barbers said.
“In these four similar incidents, it was the fishermen who recovered and reported these to authorities. There were no reports that the interdiction or recovery efforts were initiated by our authorities,” he added.
Aside from boldly sneaking cocaine in our sea and airports, drug syndicates have employed other schemes in smuggling cocaine into the country, according to Barbers.
“In some instances, big-time drug smugglers use foreign ships to sneak in their cargo, offload them near their target shores or pickup points, to be picked up later by local contacts using smaller boats but equipped with GPS or global positioning system,” he said.
The committee chairman said seaborne smugglers are sometimes forced to dump their waterproof contraband to avoid apprehension by authorities when things go wrong while at sea. At times when bad weather hit the ships, the illegal drug cargo would spill over and float in the sea until fishermen are able to find them, he said.