Once, as the saying goes, is chance, twice a coincidence, and thrice a pattern. The latter seems to be the case for Ayala Alabang Village, which was in the headlines again last week because a clandestine laboratory producing crystal methamphetamine or “shabu” allegedly for “export” were found inside this exclusive residential enclave in Muntinlupa City.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Friday raided two houses in the posh village, where 22 kilogram of shabu worth P149.6 million was seized.
One of the houses, on Mabolo Street, contained a “medium-scale” clandestine lab that, authorities said, could produce 11 to 50 kg of shabu per batch. PDEA found lab equipment, substances, and chemicals used to produce the crystal meth, as well as “freshly cooked” shabu worth P136 million. The second house, on Madrigal Avenue, yielded 2 kg of shabu valued at P13.6 million.
PDEA agents arrested three men—a Filipino businessman, a Canadian, and a French national, who was supposedly the chemist behind one of the operations. The suspects are believed to have links with the Mexican, Australian, and Canadian drug trafficking syndicates, according to PDEA officer in charge Gregorio Pimentel. The dismantling of the clandestine lab would have an “international impact” on the operations of these drug cartels, he said.
The PDEA and the police and military operatives must be commended for their successful operation which, according to reports, followed a month-long surveillance of the two houses.
But the latest discovery begs the question: why is it so easy for illegal drug syndicates to put up and operate drug laboratories in Ayala Alabang, one of the most exclusive villages in the country, right under the noses of its administrators and oblivious to the security protocols accorded its privileged residents?
The village association cannot merely shrug off this incident, which was the fourth time that a shabu lab was found operating in rented homes in the subdivision since 2012.
In January 2012, PDEA agents raided a house on a 1-hectare property at 504 Acacia Avenue, where five Chinese men were arrested and a medium-scale lab found that was capable of manufacturing 10 kg of shabu per cycle. In May 2016, authorities conducted a buy-bust operation in a house along Tamarind Drive, where they confiscated 55 kg of shabu worth P275 million and arrested three Taiwanese nationals. Authorities also found a mini-laboratory, which they said could be one of the biggest sources of illegal drugs in Metro Manila. In March 2019, PDEA agents confiscated more than P1.1 billion worth of shabu hidden in tea packs in a house on Apitong Street rented by three Chinese nationals and a Filipino interpreter.
With Friday’s discovery of two more shabu labs, Ayala Alabang would be “automatically reverted” to category 1 status, the worst category because it means the village is “seriously affected” by drugs, according to PDEA-National Capital Region director Christian Frivaldo. The gated community was the first among Muntinlupa’s nine barangays to be declared drug-free in September 2018.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, who lives not far from the raided house on Mabolo Street, urged homeowners to be vigilant and to cooperate with authorities. “We call on property owners and managers to ensure that their properties are not utilized for illegal purposes. At this time, each and every rented or vacant property should be checked and profiled to rule out its use by criminal elements,” he said.
Ironically, the village’s strict security measures were cited as among the factors behind the illegal drug syndicates’ choice of location for their lab. In 2012, then PDEA public information chief Evangeline Almenario said that while security protocols were strict, those who had homeowners’ passes could bring in or take out anything without going through inspection.
Still, with a pattern of clandestine labs in their community and raids since 2012, the village managers should have learned their lesson and implemented additional security measures to detect illegal items being brought in and out their gates. Law-enforcement agencies should have also put in place closer monitoring of the area and the drug operators arrested in previous operations in the village.
The Ayala Alabang homeowners and association officers must take a serious look at the loopholes and lapses that have made their gated village a favorite address among drug syndicates, and fully cooperate with authorities in flushing out these insidious operators and their tentacles.
While the homeowners might feel their privacy being breached, they must recognize as well the serious problem within their midst and their important role in preventing illegal drug activities in their community. They must realize that the presence of drug laboratories in their village does not only impact on the peace and order in their vicinity, but also on the government’s overall campaign against illegal drugs.