A top drug-enforcement official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Monday that drug syndicates have been doing business in malls and similar commercial establishments for years.
“We have been receiving reports in the past that they [syndicates]were doing transactions in malls and other commercial places,” the official, who belongs to PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs-Special Operations Task Force (AID-SOTF) but who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak on the issue, told The Manila Times.
The Times on Monday published a story about the arrest of four drug dealers by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) at a mall located “north of Quezon City.”
PDEA Public Information Office chief Derrick Carreon was quoted as saying that the four persons were nabbed at the mall’s food court by PDEA agents on July 2.
The AID-SOTF official said the task force’s own agents operate “discreetly” inside malls and commercial places so as not to cause alarm.
“We have to do it discreetly so as not to alarm the public or those people who go to shop. Some of our successful operations were done inside malls,” he said.
According to him, drug syndicates find malls very convenient for closing their deals because these establishments offer a blanket of protection and amenities such as restaurants.
Based on AID-SOTF records, a joint operation with PDEA led to the arrest of two Chinese nationals and a Filipino inside a mall along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City last April 30.
Arrested at the Blue Wave Strip Mall were Li Mei Mei, 41; Romeo David Ong, 49 and Esmeraldo Trinidad, 54. At least a kilo of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu worth P5 million was seized from the group.
Last year, anti-drug operatives also arrested two Chinese nationals and a Filipino in the act of selling drugs to undercover police agents inside the Tutuban Mall in Divisoria, Manila.
The arrested Chinese were identified as Xiachui Cai and Zun Lou, 43, and the Filipino as Joel Villamor. The group yielded some P400,000 worth of shabu.
Meanwhile, PDEA Special Enforcement Service Director Laurefel Gabales confirmed the Times report, saying malls have become a favorite hangout of drug dealers because mall security strictly enforces the ban on carrying firearms.
“They [drug dealers]have been doing this for quite sometime. But wala tayong exact records nito,” Gabales said in an interview.
In the July 2 PDEA operation, Gabales said the drug dealers, three of them women, chose the Quezon City mall as a drop-off point when they negotiated with an agent posing as a buyer.
The drug traffickers instructed their buyer to proceed to the mall’s comfort room for the exchange. There the unarmed PDEA agents subdued the four suspects–Leonora Samson, 41 and her sister Lorence Samson, 20, Jennifer Demafelix, 31, and Bakun Fauzia, 22. Confiscated were three transparent plastic sachets of white crystalline substance suspected to be shabu weighing more or less 150 grams with an estimated market value of P780,000 and the marked P1,000 bills used by the agents.
Carreon said the PDEA is willing to train security guards in spotting illegal drugs being brought inside malls.
He said that while mall guards are trained to respond to emergencies involving firearms, they are not equipped to prevent the entry of illegal drugs.
“We would like to strengthen coordination with security agencies that are handling shopping malls and facilitate appropriate training for them in regard to drug identification,” Carreon said.
However, he doubts if mall owners would be willing to take this additional responsibility.
PDEA Director General Arturo Cacdac Jr. said another entrapment operation in Parañaque City resulted in the arrest of a pusher and confiscation of P5.2 million worth of shabu.
Apprehended was Oliver Sarreal, 23, a resident of Block 14, Lot 13, Dangay Street, Bacoor, Cavite.
At yesterday’s flag-raising ceremony, an emotional Cacdac urged his men not to be demoralized by the allegations hurled against him and the agency by PDEA agent Jonathan Morales, who claimed that the PDEA is reluctant in arresting big Chinese drug traffickers.