The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency makes the alarming report that about 1 ton of crystal meth or “shabu” worth an estimated P7 billion may have slipped through local ports and law enforcement authorities two weeks ago. Cold logic dictates that such a development will raise the hackles of President Duterte. After all, the President has unequivocally made the war on illegal drugs the rear, front and centerpiece program of his administration. Just last July, he declared in his third State of the Nation Address that the drug war “will not be sidelined” and that it will remain
“relentless and chilling.”
Thus, not a few were dumbfounded when the President, in a speech before businessmen at the launch last week of the Pilipinas Angat Lahat
alliance, summarily dismissed as “pure speculation” the PDEA report. Without citing any counterevidence, Mr. Duterte said he was “not convinced” about the alleged drug haul and practically scolded the lead agency tasked with the enforcement of anti-illegal drugs laws, telling the PDEA it should “not go into speculative contents.”
The PDEA, however, appears to have more than enough basis for its claim.
First, 500 kilograms of shabu worth an estimated P3.4 billion that were concealed inside a large magnetic lifter—machinery typically used in factories, docks and warehouses to lift heavy objects such as steel plates and iron blocks—were intercepted on Aug. 7 at Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), North Harbor, Manila, by combined operatives of the PDEA, the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Customs.
Then, on Aug. 9, the PDEA discovered four more magnetic lifters suspected of containing as much as a ton of shabu in a warehouse in Lot 1-18, CRS Subdivision, Barangay F. Reyes in Governor Mariano Alvarez, Cavite. PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said at a press briefing that he had “a gut feeling” after the seizure of the metal lifters in MICT that there were more. His hunch seemed to be proven correct when two trained drug-detecting dogs deployed by joint operatives of PDEA Regional Office-National Capital Region “positively detected” traces of the dreaded shabu on the empty magnetic lifters, which were “similar” to the seized machines in MICT.
Aquino’s announcement, however, drew a swift rebuke from the BOC, resulting in a testy word war between the two government agencies at the forefront of the drug war. In an Aug. 14 hearing in Congress, BOC chief Isidro Lapeña disputed the PDEA report, telling lawmakers that swab tests on the empty magnetic lifters found inside the Cavite warehouse “tested negative for illegal drugs.”
Mr. Duterte’s words appeared to favor BOC’s version of the story. Curiously, just a few days after the President’s “pure speculation” comment, PDEA chief Aquino went on leave. The strange timing of that development forced the Palace to deny it had any hand in it, insisting that Aquino’s leave had long been scheduled. Aquino has confirmed he would still attend the follow-up hearings on the possible drug smuggling case on Aug. 29 in the House of Representatives, and on Aug. 30 in the Senate.
If the legislators had learned anything from the botched hearings on the earlier P6.4-billion shabu smuggling attempt that remains unresolved until now, they would summon the gumption to field hard questions this time at the BOC, PDEA—and Malacañang. That the President himself has practically declared the case closed by brushing aside PDEA’s report, without any formal, exhaustive investigation into the matter, ironically only raises all manner of speculation and conjecture.
The Palace, at the very least, should order a thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into what were really inside those suspicious
metal containers. In an online post titled “Anyare? (What happened?),” former solicitor general Florin Hilbay succinctly summarized the yawning issue: “1. The PDEA itself declared the metal containers had drugs worth 6.8 billion. Their sniffer dogs confirmed traces of drugs; 2. A similar set of containers was intercepted at the port and found to have 500 kilos of shabu worth 4.3 billion. Why is the President so dismissive and, worse, uninterested in investigating? What happened to ‘I hate drugs?’”
Malacañang owes the public some answers.
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