By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has sought the assistance of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Navy (PN), and the Maritime Group of the Philippine National Police to look out for suspicious divers scouring the waters in Bicol and Caraga Region purportedly to retrieve smuggled cocaine.
PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino bared this Thursday during a Palace briefing.
“We are asking again the help ng ating (of our) Coast Guard, ng ating Navy, and ang maritime police to help us… guard our vast coastlines,” Aquino said.
Aquino said an investigation has been launched into the presence of seemingly suspicious people diving in the waters of Bicol and Caraga regions. These divers could be the “contacts” of the foreign syndicates trafficking illegal drugs, he added.
“We are now conducting investigation because… maraming nakikita tayong mga Chinese-looking persons na nagda-dive, nagka-conduct ng diving diyan sa mga areas na iyan, kung saan iyong mga discoveries ng cocaine pero hindi naman diving sites (we have seen many Chinese-looking persons diving, going to areas where cocaine has been discovered, even though these are not diving sites),” he said.
“This is happening mostly in Region V and Caraga Region,” he said.
Aquino claimed these persons seem to be using the diving sport to cover up their drug retrieval operations.
“It will be a cover-up na kunwari nagda-dive sila (that they are pretending to dive) but actually maybe they are trying to search other cocaine in that particular waters,” he said.
Aquino had earlier said the country has become a trans-shipment point of some foreign drug syndicates. He said these syndicates drop illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, in local waters, which are then retrieved by their contacts for distribution in other countries.
Given the drug trafficking problem, the PDEA chief has appealed anew to the country’s naval forces to help thwart these lawless elements involved in smuggling drugs.
The government has in recent months recovered blocks of cocaine found floating in local waters. The seized cocaine packets are reportedly worth billions of pesos.
Aquino said around 20 samples of the cocaine were tested by the United States government and found to have come from Colombia and Peru.
Meanwhile, the government has stepped up cooperation with Colombia, Mexico, and China to combat drug trafficking amid concerns the Philippines has become a transshipment point for the illicit substance.
Aquino said they have been working with these countries in terms of sharing of information to clamp down on drug syndicates.
“We cannot address the problem by ourselves. We need the cooperation of our international counterparts. Sila iyong nagbibigay ng information iyong mga international counterpart natin (Our international counterparts are the ones giving information),” Aquino said.
Citing an example, Aquino said the government is working closely with the anti-narcotics bureau in China “to finally neutralize and to arrest all the members of these Dragon Wu group.” So far, 10 members of this drug syndicate have been arrested, Aquino said.
He also said Mexico and Colombia are the latest partners of the Philippines in the anti-drug campaign.
“In fact onWednesday, we have a fellowship with our international counterparts. So lahat ng ating mga members na mga international counterparts natin doon nandoon [So all our members who are our international counterparts], including the local counterparts and it’s very important to have a partnership and cooperation with them,” he said.
“Yung recently, naging partner na natin iyong Mexico at saka Colombia in giving us information (Recently, Mexico and Colombia became out partners by giving us information),” he added.
Aquino said the country has become a transshipment hub for drug traffickers in the region. He noted that the cocaine bricks found floating on local shores actually came from Colombia and Peru.
“We are being used as a transshipment point. Binabagsak ito mula sa malalaking barko, and then kinukuha nang mas maliliit na mga vessels (The drugs are dropped from large ships and are then retrieved by smaller vessels),” he said.