Government News Analysis

2016: bad year for drug lords

For the Philippine’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), 2016 is ending with a bang. December produced the biggest seizure of illegal drugs in the NBI’s 80 years of operation; the biggest in the country’s history – US$120 million (PHP6 billion) worth of crystal meth (shabu) from a series of operations in and around Manila.

This will put another heavy dent in the local shabu industry and send street prices for the drug-of-choice for 90% of Filipino addicts even further skyward. And so while the international media and the politically motivated human-rights watchdogs continue their concerted attack on President Rodrigo Duterte, the man who has made getting his country clean of illegal drugs a top priority, the war against the narcotics gangs is slowly being won.

In the latest haul, 890 kilograms of shabu was confiscated – 890,000 grams; that’s enough for 8.9 million hits – along with 1,110 litres of shabu stored in liquid form. By any standard, this has been an impressive operation, staged by the NBI over four months, and concentrated in and around San Juan City – the smallest city in the Philippines, tucked away on the east side of Metro Manila.

As with the majority of drug busts in the Philippines, the Chinese connection was established once more in the San Juan raids where three Chinese nationals were arrested along with seven Filipino co-workers. And evidence so far points to this being yet another Chinese owned and operated drug mill.

Meanwhile, despite these successes, and a litany of others carried out by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency which have broken shabu supply lines and dismantled production labs across the country over the past six months, there’s little recognition of these achievements by the media. Instead, their focus remains fixed on the spectre of extrajudicial killings which they link exclusively to Duterte’s war on drugs.

Liberally, they splash figures of anything from 2,000 to 3,000 as the ‘vigilante’ drugs-war kill toll – the more the merrier for their purposes which are to undermine Duterte’s efforts. And yet in 2015, before Duterte was elected president; before the war on drugs; indeed, before most people in the international media had even heard of Duterte, the Philippines was awash with violent crime.

In the first six months of last year there were 7,245 cases of murder and 6,607 cases of homicide under investigation along with 8,288 cases of rape and 182,866 cases of physical injury. Yet the human-rights groups and media remained silent. Why was that? Are not all victims equal in their eyes? Shouldn’t they be equal recipients of human rights?

What’s the difference? The answer to that is simple. Those deaths and attacks and rapes were conducted under the watch of a Philippine president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, with whom they could comfortably do business. He never called the press out, for example for that industry’s inherent corruption; he never challenged the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

And so a lot of this is personal. We guarantee that had Manila bus-hostage crisis of xxxx – in which xxx – happened on Duterte’s watch it would still be being infused into coverage of this president. As it was, despite the indefensible bungling, it was largely glossed over. The human rights of those that perished at the hands of that madman, it seems, were of little concern to the self-appointed guardians of such rights.

A lot of it, too, is to snatch the moral high ground and grab political points. Arch Duterte enemy, Senator Leila De Lima – herself under investigator for profiteering from illegal drugs and using the money to finance her senatorial campaign – invokes the extrajudicial killings every time some one hands her a microphone (which is often).  “These are mass murders,” De Lima told anti-Duterte bedfellow, CNN, recently. “High crime is a ground for impeachment under constitution [sic].”

Would be queen-maker, Philippine-born American-resident millionaire, Loida Nicolas Lewis, believes that because the Philippines is not now drug free, Duterte has failed to deliver on his promise that he would expunge narcotics from society in six  months. This, she believes is reason enough for him to step down and hand over the presidency to her Liberal Party acolyte, Vice President Leni Robredo. Of course, it’s a ridiculous notion, but such are the fantasies of power-craving elites.

All that Duterte can be charged with in this respect is in underestimating the scale of what he was tackling. And for that he can certainly be forgiven because nobody knew the extent of this scourge until he set his drug-fighting apparatus in motion.

The mood in the country, however, is very different to the one being portrayed outside of it and by the likes of De Lima and Lewis. The fact is, for most Filipinos, there is a new respect for the law and neighbourhoods are becoming safer. With the drug pushers largely off the street and a mass of addicts now either locked up or undergoing rehabilitation, in the byways of the barangays there is a new optimism with more people looking to work than looking to score. Life is starting to get a little better.

And so, as the year fades so with it does the supply of shabu. And an industry that fed on addiction for decades and proliferated as past administrations failed to tackle it, is now showing signs of decline. The war continues …

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