ANTI-NARCOTICS investigators are looking into reports that drug deals are carried out in cockpit arenas because many drug traffickers like to bet in cockfights.
Agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Force (AID-SOTF) are trying to establish a connection between cockfighting, a popular Filipino pastime, and the traffic of illegal drugs.
“Yes. That’s one of the focus of our investigation,” AID-SOTF spokesman Chief Inspector Roque Merdeguia told The Manila Times.
He said the investigation was prompted by the discovery that the pointman for the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel for its Philippine operation, Jorge Torres, and alleged Chinese drug lord Gary Tan are cockfighting enthusiasts.
“Tan and Torres love cockfighting and both frequent derbies,” Merdeguia said, adding that Tan has his own gamecock farm.
PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon backed up Merdeguia’s claim, saying drug deals can easily be made in cockpits where drug traffickers can pose as breeders or bettors.
Money changes hands quickly, with winnings paid right after each match.
“That is among the angles our agents are exploring. We look at all possible angles, including the possibility of cockpit arenas being used to conceal drug deals,” Carreon told The Times.
Torres is a Filipino-American with a US passport.
Tan was arrested inside the Lauro Panganiban Leviste Ranch in Barangay Inosloban in Lipa City on Christmas Day, along with Argay Argenos and his wife, Rochelle. Seized from the property was P420 million worth of shabu.
Torres and Tan could have been drawn together by their passion for cockfighting, authorities said. Torres remains at large, and is reported to be in the US.
Merdeguia said the US Drug Enforcement Agency has tracked down Torres and it is only a matter of time before he is arrested.
Tan, said to be a Filipino of Chinese descent, reportedly heads a drug ring operating in Metro Manila and nearby regions.
Besides cockpit arenas, The Times has been told that drug traffickers also clinch their deals in casinos where transactions are made using chips instead of cash.
Drug dealers and their cohorts prefer casinos because drug money can be laundered easily there.
The PDEA reported that in 2012, a big drug dealer was arrested inside the Resorts World Hotel and Casino, across from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, by agents from PDEA’s Central Luzon office.
A leader of the Sinaloa and big-time Chinese drug personalities met at the same hotel last year, sources in AID-SOTF told The Times. It was during this meeting where the joint venture between the Mexicans and Chinese was finalized.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd said local governments can help fight the drug menace by activating the barangay anti-drug abuse council (Badac).
The Badac implements and evaluates programs and projects on drug abuse prevention in the barangay.
Sotto said the Badac is based on section 51 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which directs LGUs to set aside part of their annual budgets for drug awareness programs and the rehabilitation or treatment of drug dependents.
But more than a decade after RA 9165 was enacted, only a few local governments maintain Badacs, Sotto said.
“There is a barangay in every island that can be tapped to monitor the entry and exit of illegal drugs and syndicates and report it to PDEA,” he said.
Sotto said the activation of Badacs has not been a priority of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) when the agency, along with the PDEA, should lead the anti-drug campaign.
The DILG not only has general supervision over local governments, it has jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police as well, he said.
“The Philippines has of the longest coastlines in the world, even longer than the United States but our coastguard doesn’t have the capability to secure our entire coastlines, and this is the reason why we need an active Badac,” the senator said.
Sotto, who was chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, said the Badac would not only help monitor the entry of illegal drugs or members of drug syndicates, it can also help identify persons involved in the illegal drug trade.
“So if anti-drug operatives were able to catch a drug trader or raid a drug den in a barangay that was not reported by the Badac there, the members of the council can also be held liable,” he said.