Recycling illegal drugs | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Recycling illegal drugs

/ 04:40 AM December 13, 2022

The arrest last week of a senior official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and some agents allegedly behind the recycling of seized illegal drugs has exposed the agency as another weak link in the government’s antidrug campaign. It has also led to questions on just how pervasive and how long this shameful activity had been going on.

The buy-bust was launched by the National Capital Region Police Office Regional Drug Enforcement Unit of the Philippine National Police following a tip that PDEA agents were selling seized narcotics right inside the PDEA Southern District Office (SDO) in Taguig City. Posing as a buyer, a policeman bought P100,000 worth of “shabu” from one of the suspects, which led to the arrest of the PDEA SDO chief himself, Enrique Lucero, PDEA agents Anthony Vic Alabastro and Jaireh Llaguno, and their driver Mark Warren Mallo. More than a kilo of shabu or crystal meth valued at P9.18 million were confiscated.

“Can you imagine the transaction being done right inside [their] office? So why are they so brazen? It is really a cause of concern not only for the PDEA but the PNP as well,” said PNP spokesperson Police Col. Jean Fajardo. The PNP will investigate whether there is an organized group in the two agencies who are behind the drug recycling operation, she added.

The PDEA SDO, which has jurisdiction over the cities of Las Piñas, Makati, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Pasay, and Taguig, and the municipality of Pateros, was recently in the news for seizing the biggest drug haul this year, including the dismantling of a clandestine shabu lab inside a house in upscale Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa on Nov. 18. Some 22 kilos of shabu worth P149.6 million were seized during the raid, with two foreign nationals and a Filipino arrested.

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PDEA director general Moro Virgilio Lazo, who gave the go-signal to conduct the latest sting operation, should ensure that Lucero and his three cohorts are prosecuted as they have reportedly refused to cooperate in the investigation.

Further, Lazo should give his agency’s full cooperation in the PNP probe on the involvement of other PDEA officials and personnel in the recycling of drugs, as this is a big setback to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

The PNP must investigate its ranks as well for the possible complicity of corrupt personnel—a big possibility, given that during the Duterte drug war, police were found to have planted evidence, mostly sachets of shabu, on drug suspects who ended up dead after allegedly fighting it out with the cops.

During the six years of the Duterte administration, the PDEA reported that P89.79 billion worth of illegal drugs were seized, as of May 31. In the first five months of the new Marcos Jr. administration, the PNP reported that some P10 billion worth of illegal drugs were confiscated. How much of that were pilfered by the same enforcers supposed to destroy those drugs remains unclear.

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The concerned agencies must also review compliance with the Supreme Court’s A.M. No. 21-02-01-SC, or the rules on the destruction and disposal of seized drugs that took effect on March 16.

The SC rules provide that an application for the destruction and disposal of the seized dangerous drugs should be filed immediately by the law enforcement agent or prosecutor before the court which issued the search warrant, or that which has jurisdiction over the area of operation.

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The rules require proper documentation, physical inventory, and photos of the seized contraband. A judge should also conduct an ocular inspection within 72 hours of the operation for drugs amounting to at least a kilo. Within 24 hours from the ocular inspection, the court shall order the retention of a “representative sample” of the seized drugs in the forensic lab of the operating unit. A number of people should be present when a representative sample of the narcotics is taken.

Retaining a “representative sample” of the illegal drugs could be the cover used by corrupt law enforcers for keeping some of the drugs for recycling. While the PNP or PDEA make a big show of destroying seized illegal drugs, just how well is the process being followed to prevent exactly the likes of Lucero et al. from getting their hands on the contraband and making money out of it?

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Clearly, there needs to be a review of the processes involved in the chain of custody and the subsequent destruction of billions worth of illegal drugs, if the PDEA SDO recycling incident were to be prevented. It is a big slap in the face of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs that members of the agency tasked to lead the fight have become drug smugglers and peddlers themselves.

TAGS: Illegal drugs, PDEA

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