SINCE President Rodrigo Duterte officially took the reins of power a little over a week ago, not a single day has passed without a drug pusher being arrested or (more often than not) killed, and shabu and other illegal drugs being seized. Within the first seven days of the Duterte administration alone, the country’s anti-drug operatives pulled off two major drug busts.
Early last week, joint elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) dug up 200 kilos of shabu buried a meter deep into the ground inside a resort in Claveria, Cagayan.
A few days later, PDEA operatives arrested three Taiwanese and seized around 49 kilos of shabu and 298 kilos of suspected liquid methamphetamine at a clandestine drug laboratory in Las Piñas City. A follow up operation in a suspected shabu storage facility in nearby Parañaque yielded another 10 kilos of shabu and 200 kilos of ephedrine, the main chemical ingredient of shabu.
Similar scenes are being played out nationwide with so-called buy-bust operations netting several hundreds small-time pushers and a few rogue cops, including several thousands packets of shabu.
While the drug busts (and the accompanying death toll) make good copy for the nightly news and the next morning’s papers, little is known (or asked) about what happens to all the shabu and other illegal drugs confiscated by the different law enforcement agencies and operatives.
It is precisely because there is little or no public disclosure on the actual amount of illegal drugs being seized in different parts of the country that these same drugs are back on the streets after being “recycled” or resold by the apprehending law enforcement officers themselves—“ninjas,” as Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Bato dela Rosa calls them.
This problem of “recycling” was again thrust into the limelight after a low-ranking anti-narcotics officer assigned to the Regional Anti-Illegal Drugs (RAID) unit of the PNP’s NCR Police Office (NCRPO) was arrested by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents after being tagged as a “reseller” of drugs that were earlier confiscated in police operations.
During the raid conducted on the policeman’s well-furnished home in Sampaloc, NBI operatives seized some P7 million in cash and a “hefty” stash of shabu kept inside a vault.
While there is a procedure for the disposition of seized or confiscated illicit drugs, this is rarely followed by anti-drug agents.
Under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA 9165), all anti-drug operatives (whether from the PNP, NBI or PDEA) are required to inventory and photograph all confiscated drugs before the media, the Department of Justice (DOJ) representative and an elected public official. Within 24 hours from seizure, the confiscated drugs should be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for examination, with the results of the testing released within 24 hours.
The law also says that after the filing of the criminal case, the court shall, within 72 hours, conduct an ocular inspection of the confiscated drugs, chemicals, and drug paraphernalia, and within 24 hours thereafter, cause the destruction or burning of the seized items through the PDEA.
Of course, this legal procedure presumes that the arresting officer or the raiding team does, in fact, disclose the seizure of drugs and/or the correct amount seized.
To lessen the temptation to “recycle” or misdeclare the quantity of confiscated drugs and to keep track of all drug seizures, Duterte should order all anti-drug units from the PNP, PDEA and NBI to file, within 24 hours after an anti-drug operation, an online report (through a secure website maintained for this purpose) on the type and quantity of drugs seized (if any) and other details of the arrest or raid.
This online report will not only give the PDEA a more accurate picture of how much drugs should be surrendered to them by the different anti-drug units for eventual destruction, it will also serve as a database of legitimate anti-drug operations.
The ability to track confiscated shabu and to distinguish the real from the bogus anti-drug operation becomes more imperative, especially after the recent drug bust in Baliwag, Bulacan.
A week before Duterte took his oath, 12 policemen from the anti-narcotics unit of the NCRPO (again?), together with a known drug trafficker, were arrested by operatives from the Bulacan police while transporting approximately 10 kilos of shabu with estimated street value of P800 million. The NCRPO Intelligence Division chief later claimed it was a legitimate police operation.
So where did the policemen get 10 kilos of shabu in the first place? Why were they escorting a drug trafficker instead of staking out the target location? And given the amount of shabu in their possession, it seems the NCRPO’s anti-drug operation involved selling rather than buying shabu. Ibang klaseng buy-bust operation ito!
Anyway, one other loophole we see is that there is no clear-cut procedure on how to dispose of confiscated drugs when no court case can be filed, either because the suspect has been killed (a common occurrence nowadays), or no suspect was caught like the recent drug bust in Cagayan. In such cases, the seized drugs should be publicly burned by PDEA within 72 hours, even without a court order.
Although the crackdown on drug traffickers and the seizure of illicit drugs is highly commendable, PNP, NBI and PDEA officials should be reminded that their job is not done until the confiscated shabu and other illegal drugs are permanently destroyed and removed from circulation.