More than two dozen suspected criminals linked to the illegal drugs trade have been killed by the police, ostensibly in firefights, just before President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power, and right after.
However, what I find strange, very strange, in photos and video clips of such killings is that those killed — a few of them even had cardboard signs placed on their famished-looking bodies labeling them as drug lords — were wearing worn-out rubber slippers and basketball shorts typical of the urban poor’s clothes.
The raids were mostly conducted down dirty and dark slum alleys. I haven’t read any report of such raids done in Alabang subdivisions, or other upper and middle-class villages, not even in class B condos. Is the illegal drugs trade now a sole undertaking by the poor?
Yesterday’s front pages reported an alleged P900-million worth of shabu recovered from a resort in Cagayan province. But where were the drug lords who manufactured or smuggled these?
Is our country so poor that even our “drug lords” are really impoverished people themselves? Or, as is more likely, is Duterte’s anti-drug campaign hitting only small-time, neighborhood drug pushers?
Duterte yesterday disclosed the names of five police generals he claimed were coddling drug lords. But who are these drug lords? If Duterte could bravely name these generals, surely he could also name the drug lords.
Contrast the kind of anonymous drug criminals killed in supposed firefights or arrested by our police to the infamous drug lords in drug-infested countries in Latin America: Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, “King of Cocaine,” killed by the police in 1993; Mexico’s Amado Carillo, “El Senor de los Cielos,” killed in 1997; and the most famous nowadays because he spectacularly escaped two maximum-security prisons, Joaquin Guzman, or “El Chapo.”
The most well-known “drug lord” in this country — or perhaps the only one made public as such — was Lim Seng, who was executed four decades ago by firing squad four months after Martial Law was imposed, as sentenced by a military tribunal. That apparently was a masterstroke, a surgical one that ended the illegal drugs trade almost immediately, or at least as we were told in that era.
Why haven’t we seen or heard of other “Lim Sengs” since? Or have the succeeding “Lim Sengs” managed to put the highest levels of the police and officialdom under their thumb, and therefore, their cases have been concealed?
The illegal drugs scourge in the Philippines certainly couldn’t be a cottage industry as marijuana propagation, for instance, could be. Worse, it has had six years to flourish under the incompetent or complicit administration of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd.
Shabu (methamphetamine), the most widely used illegal drug here, may be easy to manufacture, but it still needs chemists, with the laboratory requiring huge capital to set up and protect. A large part of the shabu here is imported from China, and therefore, requires a powerful, well-financed network, which as in the nature of crime, can only have, to use that term more precisely, drug lords.
Drug lord, the Jaguar
The closest there was to a real drug lord neutralized by the police recently was one Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz, whom reports alleged was the “second biggest drug lord in Central Visayas.” That he was the Philippine version of the Latin American drug lords was demonstrated by the attendance of at least a thousand people in his funeral procession in Las Piñas last month, more than a week after he was killed by the police on June 18.
If he was a real drug lord, it is strange why the police didn’t boast about this feat. Indeed, strangely, the police claimed it was when they were serving a warrant of arrest against another “drug personality” in Las Piñas when they, instead, encountered “Jaguar” of Cebu. Here was a top drug lord from the Visayas, “accidentally” found and killed in Las Piñas, a few days after Duterte assumed power? Something’s fishy there. There are rumors that this “drug lord” was ordered killed by ranking police officials who were his patrons, to make sure that he wouldn’t spill the beans under the new administration.
Duterte and his associates have also alleged that the drug lords are actually serving life-sentences and are incarcerated in the Bilibid National Prison – which is a terrible indictment of the past President, especially his justice secretary, Leila de Lima, who was in charge of the penitentiary.
This could be true, but it is a stretch to believe that the country’s entire illegal drug scourge is run from the national prison.
Or, are Duterte and his bulldog, the new Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald de la Rosa, failing in the required intelligence work? Unless they get the support of the PNP’s intelligence services or the uncompromised operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), these two from Davao, which is nearly a thousand kilometers south of metro Manila, the real center of drug lords, will go about trying to dismantle this scourge blindly.
I suspect that because of Duterte’s repeated statements during the election campaign that his priority would be to kill the drug lords, the real culprits may have already gone abroad simply to escape the storm of Duterte’s campaign.
That, of course, would be good enough.
But unless the drug lords are really neutralized, and Duterte and de la Rosa have found out how they have established their criminal network with the backing of corrupt police and government official so they could decimate their operations, these criminals will be back, slowly and quietly.
This is possible, especially when Duterte’s focus shifts elsewhere, or when he gets under intense fire – as I think he definitely will be – from the oligarchs whose interests have become threatened by the iron hand of his government.
If Duterte doesn’t capture — or kill — the real drug lords soon, as the corpses of urban poor drug addicts and small-time pushers pile up on the metropolis’ streets, his political support would wane rapidly.