Massive P30-B haul of illicit drugs: Financing winning drug lords in politics?
In the first 14 months of this administration, law-enforcement agents seized a staggering 7.3 tons of illegal drugs (4.4 tons of shabu and 3 tons of dried marijuana leaves) valued at P30 billion. Congressman Robert Ace Barbers made this revelation during Monday’s hearing of his House Committee on Dangerous Drugs. “This quantity alone could bankroll the political campaigns of drug lords”, he said in his opening statement.
This reminds us of the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s perspective on campaign financing. She once noted that here, winning elections often requires favor from drug lords, jueteng lords, and warlords. Congressman Barbers’ insight rings true, highlighting the stark differences between President Bongbong’s “bloodless” anti-drug campaign and his predecessor’s approach.
PBBM’s strategy has yielded remarkable results within a short span. In its report to Congress, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said that compared last year, there was a sixty percent (60%) increase in drug seizures, totaling 3,733 kilograms. At the same time there were lower fatalities, a fifty two percent (52%) reduction with nineteen (19) reported deaths instead of forty (40) last year. Moreover, anti- drug operations surged to 47,076, resulting in the arrest of 64,863 suspects nationwide.
From PDEA’s report, PBBM’s “bloodless” campaign prioritizes apprehension and prosecution, steering clear of extrajudicial killings. Its focus revolves around dismantling drug networks and intercepting shipments, presenting a more restrained and rights-respecting approach.
In contrast, Digong’s “bloody” drug war was infamous for human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings, provoking international condemnation while dividing public opinion. Some supported the tough stance, others decried violence and disregard for human rights. The “bloodless” approach strives for greater domestic and international acceptance, emphasizing law enforcement while reducing extrajudicial killings.
It’s worth noting that during Duterte’s tenure, efforts mainly targeted small fish in the drug trade, while high-ranking government officials with ties to drug lords often escaped justice. Some even received promotions, reflecting a troubling lack of accountability. But under PBBM’s watch, courtesy resignations of three police brigadier generals and fifteen colonels were accepted because of their suspected illegal drug links. DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos with PBBM’s support actively pursues “cleansing” of the PNP.
Yet, one crucial question remains unanswered: Who are the drug lords in the country’s political arena, as referred to by Congressman Barbers?
Like the congressmen, we’d like to commend the new PDEA leadership for trying to do better. To be able to fight the multi-billion drug trade, the agency submitted a wish list to Congress: to set up offices in highly urbanized cities to expand its current roster of provincial headquarters; more airport, seaport, and land interdiction units with better transport capability; more testing laboratories so that it can cover the entire country; a database for profiling seized drugs; an entry pay grade of at least Salary Grade 14 (instead of the current SG 11); and a Magna Carta bill that exempts the PDEA from the Salary Standardization Law (to attract the best and the brightest).
As this hearing happened in his House, we also commend Speaker Martin Romualdez, for fully supporting President BBM’s drug war. He has pledged funding support not only to PDEA, but all agencies doing frontline work, to curb this deadly menace.
Another point made at the hearing was how Central Luzon, or at least Pampanga, has become a hotbed of illegal drugs. Law enforcers at the hearing revealed that the Subic freeport, the Clark airport, and the numerous expressways in the region make it a suitable base for illicit drugs business.
In a move to get to the identity of the drug lords, Congressman Barbers’ committee decided to summon the owner of the warehouse in Mexico town in Pampanga where law-enforcement agencies seized 530 kilos of shabu worth P3.6-billion last month. Aside from the warehouse owner Willy Ong, the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs will also issue an invitation, and perhaps a subpoena later, to Mr. Roy Gomez, a former employee of Mexico town who “facilitated” Ong’s purchase of the property, and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman and administrator Jonathan D. Tan.
We hope that the closed-door session of the committee with officials of PDEA, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and Bureau of Customs (BoC) would reveal the “big fish” behind the P3.6-billion shabu shipment seized last month.
Now that would really be a clear victory in the war on drugs.
Let’s hope country will achieve 5M tourist arrivals this year and 7.7M next year
When I went to the Newport Mall near NAIA 3 last week, I saw a lot of tourists of various nationalities dining in various restaurants and shopping. I also saw foreigners mingling with the shopping crowd in SM North Edsa, SM Megamall and at the BGC High Street. The start of the “ber” months will trigger balikbayan returnees and other international visitors who want to experience here and enjoy the “longest Christmas celebration” in the world.
So far, this has increased tourist arrivals as Tourism Secretary Cristina Garcia Frasco reported before the Senate that as of last week a total of 4 million international tourists arrived in the country, which is already 84.7 percent of their target this year which is about 4.3M. “For the first nine months of this year, a total of P344-B in foreign visitor receipts” were recorded, and this directly helped our economy and the millions of Filipinos in the tourism sector”, she said.
This is already an outstanding achievement coming from the pandemic 2021 wherein only 164,000 tourists visited us. Last year, we improved to 2M tourist arrivals, but this is a very far cry from pre-pandemic 2019 where we had 8.3 million international visitors. I was told that for next year 2024, the target set by the Department of Tourism is a conservative 7.7 million tourist arrivals. (But this means our nation has a lot to catching up to make comparing these numbers to Thailand’s 24-M tourist arrivals followed by Malaysia with 15.5M and Indonesia with 11.1-M)
But Secretary Frasco remains optimistic and plans to usher in her Golden Era of Tourism even with the decreased budget allocation of only P2.2-B, a 20 percent reduction from previous 2023 GAA of P3.7B.
Her priorities include construction of tourism roads and improvement of gateways including air and seaports with NAIA Terminal 2 as pilot, recovery of flight seats and frequencies, launching of the country’s first Hop-On Hop-Off (HOHO) Bus Tours, improved connectivity in tourist destinations, and a stronger cruise tourism program, among others. Ten (10) Tourist Rest Areas were created all over the Philippines with more in the pipeline, and recently, the very first centralized and multi-platform Tourist Assistance Call Center. DOT banners Mindanao’s readiness to tourism, offered over 21,000 tourism jobs nationwide, increase peace and safety in destinations, as well as uplift regional tourism stakeholders on the Philippine Experience: Heritage, Culture, and Arts Caravan, among others, anchored on the greatly received enhanced tourism campaign “Love the Philippines”.
The idea really is to transform our country into a tourism powerhouse in Asia, able to compete with our neighbors who are raking in valuable tourism money into their economy. We are the best in white sand beaches and hospitable people but what we need is a whole of nation approach where everything is convenient for our visitors from transportation infrastructures, new and modern international airport, and our public transport system. We should all strive to keep our South Korean, Australian, Canadian, American, European, and even Chinese tourists safe and sound during their stay here. Because clearly, we have the most beautiful country in the world, and we should be proud to show it to the world. We should always protect our reputation as a peace-loving and friendly people to our foreign visitors.