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Another one down

/ 11:31 PM July 05, 2013

Poverty is usually to blame for the rise in incidents of Filipinos serving as drug mules, or so conventional wisdom says. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said in a 2010 report: “The prevalence of poverty brought about by the high unemployment rate in the country has caused a number of Filipinos to be enticed, duped and subsequently be recruited as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates. Cases revealed that most of the recruited couriers are either displaced OFWs abroad or those who hope to find work in other countries.”

Furthermore, among those arrested in other countries for drug courier cases (678 in 2010), Filipino women outnumber men (425 to 253), “because they generally do not generate suspicion from authorities and pose lesser detection risk.”

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On its face, the case of the Filipino woman recently executed in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China appears to fit this profile. By accounts, the woman lived in a depressed neighborhood in Navotas with family members; she was most likely lured into the drug trade by the promise of easy money. At the trial in China, evidence was presented to show that she was recruited by a Nigerian drug trafficker in 2007.

But the story gets complicated. Apparently, the woman’s early success at spiriting contraband into China led to more and bigger jobs—until she herself became the head of the operation. In all, she was said to have brought drugs into China 18 times from 2008 to the time of her arrest in January 2011. For each trip she earned between $3,000 and $4,000—no small amount, and one that would have given her sufficient reprieve from her immediate poverty, if desperation were the reason for her embracing the illegal trade.

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Why didn’t she abandon the dangerous business once she had that kind of money? Had she become too knowledgeable to be let go by her handlers? Or maybe she began to enjoy the prosperity brought by quick bucks, and was roused by the prospect of making more? That she was said to have eventually headed the operation was telling: In time she became, no longer a desperate, ignorant, poverty-stricken woman, but a full-fledged part of a global crime organization.

In fact, the woman employed a male cousin to help her in the trade. They travelled as tourists, flying to Dubai where they apparently picked up the contraband, stopped over in Hong Kong and then landed in China. But the cousin was likewise busted for trying to sneak in roughly the same amount of drugs—at least four kilos of heroin. They were both meted the death penalty by a local court in Hangzhou, but the cousin’s secondary role was acknowledged through a two-year reprieve leading to a possible commutation of sentence to life imprisonment, because evidence showed that the woman was “the one who was really leading the drug trafficking,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

The 35-year-old woman is the fifth Filipino since 2011 to have been executed by China for drug smuggling. At present, the DFA said, there are 213 drug-related cases involving Filipinos in China, which has one of the highest death penalty rates in the world for drug offenses. In 2011 Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, Elizabeth Batain and another unnamed Filipino died by lethal injection for the same offense. Ordinario-Villanueva’s story was a more typical one: She was said to have been misled by a recruiter into taking what she thought was an empty suitcase that turned out to be secretly lined with more than four kilos of heroin.

In the wake of the latest execution, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to hunt down the woman’s recruiter—a move that comes more than two years late, given that her case became known in January 2011. Another question arises related to the frequency with which the woman was able to leave the country with contraband on her: How did she manage to slip past X-ray machines and elude detection by airport authorities at least 18 times?

We cannot begrudge China for strictly enforcing its drug laws. While the Philippines does not have the death penalty, we would want likewise to prosecute foreign drug traffickers on our shores to the fullest extent of our laws. But too many loopholes and lapses, deliberate or otherwise, hamper the fight against the drug trade. The death of one more Filipino abroad should jolt the government to step up its game.

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TAGS: China, death penalty, drug trafficking, Editorial, opinion, Poverty
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