Pinoys still being nabbed for drugs abroad despite executions
After the Filipina drug courier’s execution, Vice President Jejomar Binay warned Filipinos not to risk their lives attempting to smuggle illegal drugs into foreign countries. He said modern equipment can now detect now easily detect drugs, and authorities may not necessarily accost a drug mule immediately after detecting drugs.
However, just three weeks after the Filipina was executed in China, another drug trafficking case involving Filipinos made it to the headlines once again.
On July 31, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said two Filipino sisters were found carrying 14.5 kilos of methamphetamine — known in the Philippines as shabu — in Hong Kong a few days earlier.
Citing a report from the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong, DFA spokesman and Assistnat Secretary Raul Hernandez said the two Filipinas were bound for Clark, Pampanga when they were arrested at a Hong Kong airport on Sunday. They are scheduled to appear in court in October.
Based on DFA records, the number of Filipinos detained around the world for drug-related offenses has reached 696 as of August 2013, with 212 Filipino drug couriers imprisoned in China.
In a text message sent last week, Hernandez said 49 of the Filipinos involved in drug trafficking charges all over the world are on death row, with their cases still subject to appeal.
He assured Filipinos, however, that DFA is continuously providing consular and legal assistance to Filipinos in drug-related cases who are awaiting their fate while in jail.
“The DFA ensures that the safety and rights of these Filipinos are protected by having our embassy officials regularly visit them. We also continue to provide them consular and legal assistance,” he said.
High risk, high returns
Despite the enormous risks to life and safety associated with drug trafficking, some Filipinos continued to participate in the trade because of its lucrative financial returns.
For instance, the 35-year-old Filipina drug courier executed in China earned $3,000 to $4,000—or roughly P129,000 to P172,000—per trip after successfully smuggling drugs from Dubai to Hong Kong and China, according to information from DFA.
In a country where one in four people live on less than $1 a day, getting paid more than a thousand dollars for a job is an enticing prospect.
While many are lured to smuggle drugs abroad for the money, some continue in the trade because they have no other choice but to remain drug couriers. There have been reports in the past where foreign drug syndicates coerce Filipinos—usually women—into becoming drug couriers by threatening to harm their families if they do not agree.
In a recent press conference, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said known foreign drug smuggling groups such as the West African Drug Syndicate (WADS) “seem to prefer” recruiting Filipinos because many of them go abroad for work.
But in exchange for a princely sum, Filipino drug couriers expose themselves to harm and possible death by using their own bodies as conduits of illegal drugs.
Gone are the days when drug syndicates smuggle drugs into foreign lands by hiding them in discreet compartments in suitcases. To minimize the risk of detection—especially in airports with less-sophisticated X-ray machines, WADS and other groups have shifted to placing packets of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs inside a person’s body.
Drug couriers are either made to ingest several plastic capsules containing illegal drugs or often-untrained doctors recruited by the syndicate sew drug packs inside a person’s abdominal cavity—to be retrieved by opening him or her up when he or she has reached his or her country of destination.
In both cases, drug couriers are put at risk of contracting a serious infection or dying because the parcel inside them might burst and they will be poisoned by several kilograms of illegal drugs.
Imprisonment or death
According to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) released by the United States Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, drug trafficking continues to be one of the three major illicit drug activities in the Philippines, the other two being drug manufacturing and cultivation.
At present, the illegal drug trade in the country is currently valued at over $8.4 billion, with a huge chunk coming from drug smuggling activities.
Out of 42 countries that still impose death penalty for serious and heinous crimes, 11 mete it out for drug-related offenses. These are China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore , Thailand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen.
Despite its stringent anti-drug trafficking laws, China continues to be a popular destination to smuggle illegal drugs because of its huge market for narcotics.
“As the Chinese economy has become more integrated in the world economy, drug crimes and drug users in China have increased.
In 2010, 611 cases were uncovered with the seizure of more than 1,500 kg. of drugs, representing a 50% increase compared with 2009. Large-scale organized criminal groups traffic drugs to certain major cities in northern and south eastern China,” the US State Department said in 2012.
Unfortunately for drug couriers, the invention of high-technology X-ray machines has made it easier for Chinese officials to detect smuggled drugs at airports even if it is inside the human body. The 35-year-old Filipina executed in China, as well as the three Filipinos who died through lethal injection there in 2011—Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, and Elizabeth Batain—were caught carrying illicit drugs at different provincial airports in China.
Under Chinese law, the possession of at least 50 grams of illegal drugs is enough to warrant a death penalty, usually through lethal injection.
There have been some instances, however, where Filipino drug convicts in China were able to commute their sentence from execution to life imprisonment.
In light of the growing number of Filipinos being nabbd by foreign authorities for drug trafficking, the Philippine government has vowed the stricter implementation Republic Act 9165—also known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002—that penalizes drug trafficking.
Under RA 9165, drug couriers might face life imprisonment if they are caught carrying more than 50 grams of illegal drugs.
While the US State Department has noted in its latest release of the INCSR that the Philippines has made significant gains in addressing the issue of drug trafficking in the country under President Benigno Aquino III, the government needs to do more to drastically reduce the number of Filipinos lured into the drug trade.
“Although the Philippine government takes the problems of drug trafficking and drug abuse seriously, the lack of resources and effective investigative tools, combined with a high degree of law enforcement corruption, continued to make the Philippines vulnerable to exploitation by transnational criminal organizations,” it said. - VVP, GMA News