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International Drug Bust in the Philippines Renews Awareness

Last week anti-narcotics agents arrested four Canadians affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel after discovering USD 2.25 million dollars (100 million pesos) worth of crystal meth, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA – just weeks after authorities recovered 84 kilograms of crystal meth in a Batangas ranch associated with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. Attempting to undercut the Chinese-dominated market by selling some substances at half the market price, James Riach, Ali Shirazi, Barry Espadilla and Tristan Olazo were taken into custody when police raided three condominiums and discovered suitcases packed with the drugs.



The significant busts have diverted some attention back to the illegal drug industry, reopening the debate on focusing law enforcement on harder drugs rather than soft drugs such as marijuana, which is gaining recognition as a medicinal source in other countries across the globe.

Market Competition Driving Drug Crimes

Chief of the Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation Rommell Vallejo stated: “This is the first time we have encountered a syndicate composed of Canadian nationals. There are so many Chinese syndicates involved in drugs, and some of them will feel threatened by these cheap drugs. I believe that if we don't check it, this will lead to a drug war.”

The Canadians had been using the Philippines as a major trafficking and selling point, packaging their goods from Mexico between metal serving trays. Riach and Shirazi were arrested in their “party pad,” a penthouse suite located in Makati city, while Espadilla and Olazo – who are originally of Filipino descent, were arrested in their “kitchen laboratory” in a condo in Taguig city. Espadilla’s spouse was also taken in. It has since been discovered that Riach and Espadilla were gang members of the infamous Independent Soldiers in Vancouver, British Columbia, and already had criminal records.

While the Philippines maintains a productive anti-drug campaign, the region continues to be an ideal vantage point for drug traffickers due to its close proximity to other locations in Asia and the Pacific where the trade is extensive along with other closely-associated crimes such as prostitution. Given Mexico’s and Vancouver’s own troubling drug legacy, it comes as a small surprise that both countries have roots in the Philippines’ illegal drug trade.

Intervention

Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (known locally as Shabu), Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or Ecstasy), Marijuana, Cocaine, and Ephedrine are the main culprits causing the most pressing problems within the country; Shabu (of which the Philippines contains the highest rate in East Asia according to a United Nations report in 2012) has flourished into an industry which draws in more than a billion pesos per day, no longer the “poor man’s cocaine” that it was once deemed. Along with drug trafficking offenses comes crimes committed as a result of drug addiction, with 65% of suspects confirmed drug addicts. A 2004 census reported that 6.7million people in the Philippines were drug users, a massive increase over previous decades which continues to rise. As well as illegal substances, prescription addiction of high potency has also resulted, urging the need to increase education and awareness within both the medical field as well as investigating its impact on drug trade on the streets. Along with drug enforcement agencies, the Filipino Government continues to take active steps towards clamping down on drug trade from both local and international sources which are using the country as a hub for their network, yet it remains a considerable challenge.

Hope for the Future

Fortunately, there continue to be other methods of combating drugs through prevention via education and community outreach programs which help youth in vulnerable communities, and prominent organizations such as Help International have been playing an active role within Manila for more than two decades through their rehab centre. Specialized services which deal explicitly with HIV and AIDS patients who have been or are addicted to drugs has also been set up. Support groups and counseling for drug users and their families are becoming more readily accessible so that people can gain the help they need.

Particularly taking into account the current conditions wrought by the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan and the fact that several communities are struggling to get back to their feet, a drug war could wreak devastating damage on the country. With the avidness of the police force and a continued investment in keeping vulnerable areas informed, hopefully the drug menace can be effectively combated and turned around.

Image screenshot from keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
 
Article by: Melissa Bennett



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