‘Sago’ or ‘shabu’?
Sen. Ping Lacson delivered a speech last week detailing some pretty sensational charges, among them that: 1) a Chinese national named Zhijian Xu, alias Jacky Co, allegedly facilitated the smuggling into the country of crystal meth or “shabu” with a street value of P1.8 billion; 2) Co, regarded as “among the wanted personalities in China” and said to be involved not only in illegal drugs but also in kidnapping cases, personally came to the Philippines to monitor the shipment of the 276 kilos of shabu, which were recovered by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on March 22; 3) two weeks after the seizure, Co was able to fly out of Manila for Vietnam via Singapore; but 4) Co was said to be on the Interpol watch list of suspected criminals—so how was he able to breeze in and out of the country, and through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s primary gateway, at that?
“One may wonder: How can a person of such character slip [through] the stringent scrutiny of the Bureau of Immigration [BI] personnel manning our airports?” Lacson asked.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra later said there was no Jacky Co on either the Interpol or BI watch lists.
For its part, PDEA said it was actually about to file charges against the Chinese suspect, but Lacson’s speech preempted the move. “PDEA is scheduled to file the case against Jacky Co before the Department of Justice on May 31, 2019 as agreed upon during our case conference held last May 28, 2019—a day before Senator Panfilo Lacson delivered his privilege speech,” said the agency in a statement.
It had been gathering evidence against Co for two months as part of its case buildup, it added, but “buildups and evidence-gathering are not accomplished overnight. It normally takes law enforcers, like PDEA, months or even years. In the case of Jacky Co, luckily, it took PDEA two months only.”
Luckily? That seems a queer notion of the word, since Co is no longer around to be apprehended, having merrily flown the coop and escaped the PDEA’s vaunted case buildup. Still, on Friday last week, the agency filed before the Department of Justice drug cases against Co and 16 other personalities it said were involved in the smuggling of P1.8 billion worth of shabu.
The Co story seemed intriguing enough. But Lacson detonated a bigger bombshell: That PDEA and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) had decided on an exceedingly odd course of action—a public bidding—for another cargo of illegal drugs, seized in March and hidden in a shipment of tapioca starch. The agencies auctioned off three shipping containers filled with 146 kilos of shabu worth P1 billion, supposedly to ferret out the individuals behind the drug shipment.
It was a highly irregular move, charged Lacson, because under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, “public auction is not one of the prescribed means of disposing prohibited goods.” The drugs should have been destroyed, he said, not offered for sale in a public auction.
What were they thinking? The BOC attempted a belated clarification by claiming that the auctioned shipment contained only tapioca starch, not crystal meth. The haul had to be disposed of swiftly because tapioca starch—the ingredient for “sago” and tapioca pearls in milk teas—“is highly perishable in nature,” said the BOC earnestly. More to the point, it washed its hands of the affair; the PDEA is the lead agency in the anti-illegal drugs operations, not the BOC, it stressed.
Understandably, Lacson is now confused and even more angry. The BOC officials may have taken back their statement that the shipment contained shabu because they could be held liable for auctioning the prohibited goods, he said. Or perhaps they were taken for a ride by PDEA, and did not really know there were illegal drugs in the shipment?
Questions and more questions, and the details get more confusing by the day. But what these latest irregularities drive home is this: The war on drugs continues to be a deadly joke. Deliberate or not, government agencies mistaking shabu for
tapioca starch, or vice versa, is as bad a script as one could get—hilarious, if it weren’t so pernicious for the rest of the country that has to live with the bloody consequences.