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US govt: Illegal drugs remain a significant problem in RP

MANILA, Philippines - Illegal drugs remain a significant problem in the Philippines due to corruption and poor law enforcement, a US government report said. In its 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), the US State Department said corruption of police and other public officials remains an obstacle to better law enforcement in the Philippines. The report, dated Feb. 27, 2009, came amid the alleged bribery of Justice prosecutors in the dismissal of the illegal drug case against three scions of wealthy families who were arrested by anti-narcotics agents in September last year. “The drug problem in the Philippines remains significant, despite the continued efforts of Philippine law enforcement authorities to disrupt major drug trafficking organizations and dismantle clandestine drug laboratories and warehouses. The Philippines faces challenges in the areas of drug use and production, law enforcement, corruption, and drug trafficking," the INCSR report said. The report also cited “official" and “widespread" reports linking rebel groups to marijuana plantations, and that the manufacture of these drugs might even be funding their operations. It noted the Philippines’ vast stretches of unpatrolled and sparsely inhabited coastline across more than 7,000 islands make it an “attractive narcotics source and transshipment country for traffickers, including terrorist and insurgent organizations." “Illegal drugs and precursor chemicals also enter and leave the country through seaports, economic zones, and airports. Children are often used as street drug runners because of the difficulty in prosecuting them when they are caught in possession of illegal drugs," it said. “Enforcement remains a high priority for the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the lead counter-narcotics agency. As a relatively new agency, the PDEA’s effectiveness remains hampered by a lack of investigatory discipline, leading to the dismissal of cases for insufficient evidence. There are also coordination problems with other agencies, and trained investigative staff is inadequate to the scale of the problem," it added. Also, it said there was widespread use of illegal drugs nationwide, despite claims by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) that statistics on drug use were inaccurate. The INCSR report added that based on drug seizures in 2008, the Philippines continued to be a producer of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) and marijuana. Successes But the INCSR said the Philippine government had some successes in enforcing counter-narcotics laws, including a large shabu seizure made from a speedboat in Subic Bay. It also cited the dismantling of a large clandestine laboratory in northwest Luzon in cooperation with the Philippine National Police (PNP). The INCSR said a recent survey by the PNP showed illegal drug usage as the fourth most pressing law enforcement problem in the Philippines. It however noted the government's announcement that the Philippine infrastructure to fight illegal drugs is in place and implementation is proceeding as planned. The Philippines' Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) had reported in previous years that there were an estimated 6.7 million illegal drug users in the country, but DDB current chairman Vicente Sotto III acknowledged in 2008 that the estimate was based on a flawed methodology and was likely to be much larger. The DDB intends to conduct a more thorough survey in early 2009. Shabu INCSR said The Philippines’ poorest regions, such as Mindanao, have the highest percentage of methamphetamine abusers. Crystal methamphetamine, locally known as shabu, continues to be the drug of choice in the Philippines and is consumed by all people from all walks of life. Information from the 2008 United Nations (UN) World Drug Report indicates the Philippines has the world’s highest estimated annual methamphetamine prevalence rate (6 percent). Also, the report belied claims by Philippine authorities that seizures of clandestine laboratories had reduced supply and increased the price of the drug. “However, it is more likely that price increases are driven by increased cost of foreign precursor chemicals rather than local law enforcement efforts. The current price of methamphetamine has doubled from P5,000 per gram in 2007 ($106) to P10,000 in 2008 ($212), with a street value of 10M to 12M pesos per kilo. Prices in the northern Philippines are higher than in central and southern Philippines, probably due to higher lab-to-market transportation costs, since clandestine labs are concentrated in the south, particularly in Mindanao. The price increase is likely driven by what the market will bear, rather than a shortage of supply; law enforcement agencies report no shortage of available methamphetamine," it said. The report said methamphetamine is clandestinely manufactured in the Philippines, with precursor chemicals coming illegally from China, India, and Thailand. Methamphetamine producers continue to compartmentalize production in diverse locations to prevent detection and to allow drug syndicates to produce large quantities during a production cycle. “This sophisticated technique is employed by Chinese and Taiwanese drug trafficking organizations and may indicate a departure from the previous mega-lab production technique, which relies on quick production to avoid detection. Philippine authorities are also investigating five significant domestic organizations," the report said. “While Chinese criminal organizations continue to establish and operate many methamphetamine clandestine laboratories, investigations have revealed that Muslim traffickers, many affiliated with separatist groups, are the main distributors of methamphetamine in the Philippines. Insurgent activity in Mindanao facilitates methamphetamine production, according to DDB and local government sources, thus increasing availability within the Muslim community," it added. Also, it cited “widespread reports" that methamphetamine is produced in laboratories in areas controlled by Moro rebels who use the profits to fund their operations. “There is also anecdotal evidence that rebel fighters take methamphetamine to combat lack of sleep and inadequate food intake, as well as to enhance aggression and withstand pain," it added. It said law enforcement investigations revealed that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were directly involved in the smuggling, protection of methamphetamine production, and transportation of illegal drugs to other parts of the country and across Southeast Asia. The Philippines is a source of methamphetamine exported to Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and in relatively small quantities to the US (including Guam and Saipan), it added. Marijuana According to the report, the Philippines produces, consumes, and exports marijuana – the second most used drug in the country. It cited “official reports" that indicate an increase in the number of marijuana plantations in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “Elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MILF, and the ASG earn funds by providing protection for marijuana cultivation and smuggling operations as well as participating in local distribution operations. The New People’s Army (NPA), a group of communist insurgents, controls and protects many marijuana plantation sites, particularly in the Cordillera Autonomous Region of northern Luzon, as well as some eastern parts of Mindanao. Most of the marijuana produced in the Philippines is for local consumption, with some smuggled to Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan," it said. On the other hand, methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA or Ecstasy) is commonly used in Metro Manila nightclubs and bars by young, affluent Filipinos. As for prosecution, the US noted thay prosecuting a typical narcotics case usually took four years on average. Corruption But the US noted corruption continued to be a problem among the police, judiciary, and elected officials. It cited the case of the “Alabang Boys" where investigations were under way in January 2009 to examine allegations of corruption in the Justice Department’s dismissal of a case against drug suspects in PDEA custody. But it also noted both that the internal affairs divisions of the PNP and PDEA could be tapped to address corruption. Also, it said the Philippine Presidential Anti-Corruption Council received a large grant from the Millennium Challenge Corp. in 2008, much of which was given to PDEA to hire approximately 400 agents and support personnel and fund their basic agent training program. The US government plans to continue work with the GRP to promote law-enforcement institution building and encourage anti-corruption mechanisms via JIATF-West programs, as well as ongoing programs funded by the Department of State. Industry Meanwhile, the US said the illegal drug trade in the Philippines had evolved into a billion-dollar industry. “The Philippines continues to experience an increase in foreign organized criminal activity from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Insurgency groups operating in the Philippines partially fund their activities through local crime, the trafficking of narcotics and arms, and engage in money laundering through ties to organized crime. The proceeds of corrupt activities by government officials are also a source of laundered funds," it said. It added smuggling continued to be a major problem, with the Federation of Philippine Industries estimating that lost government revenue from uncollected taxes on smuggled items at over $2 billion annually, including substantial losses from illegal imported fuel and automobiles. “Remittances and bulk cash smuggling are also channels of money laundering. The Philippines has a large expatriate community," it added. On the other hand, the INCSR noted the Philippines had no comprehensive legislation pertaining to civil and criminal forfeiture. “Various government authorities, including the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine National Police, have the ability to temporarily seize property obtained in connection with criminal activity. Money and property must be included in the indictment, however, to permit forfeiture," it said. Also, the INCSR noted casinos were not considered covered institutions under the anti-money laundering act. “There is an increasing recognition that the 15 casinos nationwide offer abundant opportunity for money laundering, especially with many of these casinos catering to international clientele arriving by charter flights from around Asia. Several of these gambling facilities are located near small provincial international airports that may have less rigid enforcement procedures and standards for cash smuggling," it said. “At present, there are no offshore casinos in the Philippines, though the country is a growing location for Internet gaming sites that target overseas audiences in the region. PAGCOR has agreed to voluntarily submit reports on suspicious activities of casino operators or its patrons," it added. Making the possibility of cash smuggling worse was the large volume of foreign currency remitted to the Philippines by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), the report said. “Since most of these funds enter the country in smaller quantities than $10,000, there is no declaration requirement and the amounts are difficult to calculate. The Philippines encouraged banks to set up offices in remitting countries and facilities for fund remittances, especially in the United States, to help reduce the expense of remitting funds. OFWs also use informal value transfer systems," it noted. “Law enforcement should be able to scrutinize financial records as an investigative measure on an ex parte basis when notice to the account holder might prejudice the ability of the government to successfully prosecute the money laundering or forfeiture case, including enabling a suspected criminal to take action to secrete or transfer assets," it said. - GMANews.TV