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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The threat of drugs in Zamboanga

By Dominic I. Sanchez

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Part of a policeman’s job is to listen to people’s problems. But one father’s problem, which was shared with the local police chief was unlike any usual concern. The father wanted his son dead.

“Mas bueno pa siguromatayalang con estebata (maybe it would be better to just kill this boy),” said the father, as Sr. Supt. AngelitoCasimiro narrated during a recent meeting with local communicators. “Why would the father want his own son dead?” the police chief asked.

The boy has been addicted to drugs. According to Casimiro, the father shared with him that the boy would steal furniture, appliances, anything from their own home and sell them – just to be able to get shabu (metamphetamine hydrochloride) to quench his addiction.

The worst part is the boy would hurt his own mother physically, assaulting her on several occasions whenever she refused to give him money for drugs. The boy has become a menace to his own family. Both the father and the mother live in fear that one day, the boy himself would kill them both.

Seriousness of the problem

The drug problem in the city is very serious. Casimiro shared that a huge chunk of the more or less 200 shooting incidents in the city from 2011 to the present is drug-related. People have been killed because of drugs.

“It penetrates many sectors of society,” said Casimiro. “It’s not a question whether you’re rich or poor – there have been habal-habal drivers, fishermen, teachers, school principals, even doctors, nurses and politicians who either take drugs or are involved in the drug trade business.”

The city jail currently houses about 1,800 inmates and 60 percent of them are jailed for drugs, shared Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) operations and planning chief Marvin Santos in a recent press conference. The jail is severely congested as a result, and another problem arises: “It’s inhuman,” Santos said in relation to the living conditions inside the jail.

Meanwhile, PDEA Regional Director Joseph Ladipsaid “even when the drug operators are in jail, the drug trade outside still continues. Consequentially, the families of the jailed suspects would carry on with the business. This has become a family thing.”

Ladip explained that one of the most common reasons why people go into the drugs business is because of its profitability, as 100 grams of shabu is sold as much as P100 thousand. “It is easy business,” he said.

An aftermath of the September 2013 siege is the further spread of illegal drugs. Santos said that the siege has caused the loss of income for many residents and large numbers turned to drugs. “Drug syndicates have chanced upon this opportunity to offer ‘consignments’ with the victims of the siege,” he explained.

The movement of drugs: From China, Luzon to Zambo Peninsula

According to Ladip, majority of the drugs proliferating in the city and in the neighboring towns come mainly from China. Others come from “clandestine laboratories” particularly in the Luzon area, which are being manned by Chinese chemists. Many of these laboratories have been shut down by the PDEA and government authorities, and the hunt for others still continues.

The drugs are usually shipped through couriers and would arrive in the city through plane or boat. They are well concealed and would sometimes just pass through terminal x-rays undetected.

Today, the syndicates also use the RORO, buses and public transportation to ship their drugs through unlikely persons – like elderlies and even children.

“They are becoming more unpredictable in their operations,” Santos emphasized recently. “The more ‘hot’ they feel, the more elusive they become.”

Santos enumerated Lower and Upper Calarian, Recodo, Sinunuc, Baliwasan, Suterville and Sta. Catalina as the “hotspots” for the illegal drug trade. Drug syndicates however are moving constantly in other areas to avoid stiff monitoring by authorities, said Santos.

What authorities have been doing

Meanwhile, the PDEA and the local police have been stretching their monitoring and buy-bust operations efforts with significant arrests and developments, risking life and limb in the process.

Last May 5, a certain Nurhana Lao, tagged by PDEA as the city’s “Shabu Queen” was apprehended along with her son Pedimar and niece Maureen in a buy-bust operation in barangay Tetuan. The arrest came after undercover PDEA agents posed to buy 100 grams of shabu from the 54-year-old Lao. According to Santos, the shabu queen is allegedly in control of 85 percent of the drug business in the city.

The local police for its part has been relentless in the fight against the spread of illegal drugs in the city. “We do an average of 48 anti-drug operations in a month,” said Sr. Supt. Casimiro. “If we cannot meet our target for the month, we need to compensate for them the following month.”

The anti-illegal drugs operations of both PDEA and the police have resulted in numerous apprehensions, for both small-time and big-time dealers.

But these positive developments do not come without a cost.

On Good Friday (April 3), the Ayala Police Station was rocked by an explosion after an unidentified person lodged an improvised explosive device to a pick-up truck within the impounding area. Several passers-by were injured. The police link the incident to the arrest of suspected drug operators in the Recodo area. They are also currently investigating if Lao is involved in that explosion.

Policemen have been constantly receiving death threats.

“They are aware of our efforts, and they are retaliating,” Sr. Supt. Casimiro said.

The drug lords have grown furious. “Bahalanadawmaubosperanilabastamamataylangangpulis (They care more about killing the cops than losing money),” shared Casimiro.

Everyone’s stake

The fight against drugs does not only involve the police, PDEA and other government bodies. “It must be fought by all,” Casimiro said.

From the homes, to schools, offices and institutions, people should be made aware of its dangers, Casimiro emphasized. Homes were ruined; lives were lost all because of drugs and addiction. “We cannot do this alone,” he appealed.

Government agencies, civil society groups and media together play an important part in the advocacy against the use of drugs.

The parents for one, according to Santos must exert extra effort to monitor their children’s activities away from home, when peer pressure and bad influences often come in throngs. The schools also have a great responsibility to the children, which would come in the form of advocacies against the use of drugs.

The police meanwhile have been pushing for a “drug summit”, which aims to gather all stakeholders in an advocacy campaign on the dangers of drugs.

The drugs business, like any other exists because of its demand. “When we cut off the demand, we destroy their business,” Santos said.

Asked if the war on drugs still has hope, Santos replied: “Yes, there is. Give us time.”