Government News Analysis

Drug war moves up the food chain

From judges and lawmakers to mayors and local-government bosses to military personnel and police officers, the tangled web of the Philippines’ illegal-drugs networks is being dragged into the light. And the long-held open secret that national and local ranking officials are involved and directly profiting from the drugs trade has been laid bare with President Rodrigo Duterte’s naming and shaming 160 of them.

Reading out a list of names at a military base in Davao, Duterte declared that they had all been sacked and that their gun permits and all official protection for them were being withdrawn. They should, he said, hand themselves in to authorities or he will instruct the Philippine army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to “hunt you down”.

The significance of this is that the war is now being waged further up the food chain. The shift from the street war against drug peddlers to the owners and operators of the drug cartels which are backed by powerful regional politicians, shows a clear expansion of Duterte’s strategy and underscores his commitment to rid his country of drugs.

One of those on the list was Ronaldo Espinosa, mayor of Albuera, a town in Leyte, Eastern Visayas. He surrendered to authorities the day before a raid by police commandos on his home which left six of his bodyguards dead. Thirteen high-powered firearms and five pistols were seized at the scene. Espinosa is believed to have a small army of 50-100 well-armed protectors.

His son, Kerwin, now on the run, is described by police as armed and dangerous and the region’s “No. 1 drug lord”. PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa warned him: ‘Your father already surrendered so you should follow your father… Your life is really in danger.’

Espinosa Snr denies any involvement in the drugs trade and says his son was no more than a pusher of shabu, a methamphetamine. The police say that their family narcotic business is extensive and are now dismantling it.

In other developments, Johaira Macabut (alias Abinal) – known as the “Mindanao Drug Queen” – a former mayor of Maguing, a town in Lanao del Sur, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has been arrested at her home in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental. The raid, by officers of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, uncovered a quantity of shabu and a number of guns. Five other mayors, three from ARMM and one each from Bulucan and Iloilo, have also handed themselves in to police. Others are being tracked down as a “shoot on sight” order remains in place.

With an estimated 3% of the country’s 1.2 million population addicted to drugs and 92% of Metro Manila’s barangays afflicted by narcotics, the administration is fighting a war and a pandemic. Crime wars in a queue