The Government of the Philippines continues to wage an ongoing struggle against drug abuse and drug trafficking. Reported usage of “shabu,” the street name of methamphetamine, continues to grow as the nation’s most widely trafficked narcotic, and shabu addiction remains the most significant drug problem in the Philippines. Marijuana is the second most abused drug and limited cannabis cultivation takes place within the country, mostly for local consumption. Cocaine is rare in the Philippines, due to high prices and limited demand, but club drugs, such as MDMA (ecstasy) and controlled pharmaceuticals have become more prevalent. Inhalants are also widely abused. Endemic poverty, corrupt government officials, and extremely porous borders create an environment where drug trafficking is very lucrative, with a relatively low risk of successful interdiction or prosecution.
International organized crime groups have established operational elements throughout the urban areas of the Philippines. In 2015, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the lead counternarcotics enforcement agency in the country, reported that 8,629 villages or barangays (approximately 20 percent of the country’s villages) reported drug-related crimes.
Philippine law enforcement and justice sector agencies lack sufficient resources, staff, and effective investigative tools to identify, investigate, and prosecute transnational drug trafficking organizations. Restrictions imposed by the Anti-Wiretapping Act of 1965 continue to bar the use of judicially authorized interception of criminal communications, and procedures such as plea bargaining and drug-related asset forfeitures are rarely used. Many drug-related cases are dismissed for failure to follow the strict evidentiary procedures in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Reforms to the law remain pending. Prosecution and adjudication of drug-related cases continue to face significant procedural delays.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
PDEA reported that as of July 31, 2015, their organization had 804 drug enforcement officers assigned nationwide to counternarcotic operations. These officers are tasked with enforcing the Philippines Republic Act 9165, known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002, to curb the growing problem of drug abuse in the country. PDEA also has 16 regional laboratories that employ 28 forensic chemists, two laboratory aides, and 18 laboratory technicians. Currently, PDEA has 34 drug detecting canines (K9) deployed in 13 regional offices and plans to deploy additional K9’s in Regional Offices 12, 13, and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao by the end of 2015.
PDEA promotes effective interagency coordination to supplement its limited staff during major operations combating the smuggling of illegal drugs into and through the major airports of the Philippines. Since its formation in 2013, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Inter-Agency Anti-Drug Interdiction Task Group (NAIA Task Group) office has acted as an increasingly effective fusion center, bringing together officials from the PDEA, Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Bureau of Customs, and Bureau of Immigration.
The Philippines provides mutual legal assistance and extradition in criminal matters, including drug cases, to the United States pursuant to bilateral treaties.
2. Supply Reduction
During the first seven months of 2015, PDEA conducted 13,596 counternarcotics operations that included dismantling two clandestine methamphetamine laboratories, a drug storage warehouse, and several cannabis growing facilities. During these operations, PDEA made 10,868 arrests.
The Philippines produces and consumes marijuana. Cultivation occurs primarily in remote, mountainous regions in Luzon and Mindanao. During the first seven months of 2015, PDEA completed 22 successful cannabis eradication operations that resulted in the destruction of 117 growing sites and a seizure of cannabis valued at approximately $3.5 million.
Also during the first seven months of 2015, PDEA reported the seizure of 1,570 kilograms (kg) of cannabis products; 441 kg of methamphetamine; 59.37 kg of cocaine; 2,902 MDMA tablets ecstasy; and smaller amounts of synthetic drugs and diverted pharmaceutical drugs.
Recent seizures indicate that higher purity methamphetamine from Mexico is potentially supplanting less pure Chinese-sourced methamphetamine. Despite this new trend, the most substantial source of methamphetamine remains bulk shipments from China, largely controlled by Chinese organized criminal groups. Additionally, drug couriers use flights to the Philippines both to smuggle drugs into the country and to transship drugs to other countries.
Philippine law enforcement agencies also note an increasing number of West African drug syndicates using airports to smuggle methamphetamine into the Philippines for onward distribution throughout Southeast Asia. Additionally, law enforcement agencies continue to monitor the potential presence of Latin American drug trafficking groups.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
According to recent statistics from the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB), 1.7 million Filipinos are addicted to illegal drugs (approximately 1.6 percent of the population). The DDB oversees national preventive education programs aimed at promoting self-awareness and explaining the repercussions of drug dependency. The DDB also conducts systematic training for effective parenting to help protect children from illegal drug use.
The DDB is developing an online training program to expand access to information about establishing drug-free workplaces. During 2015, the DDB, in cooperation with the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), improved the access of rehabilitation services and implemented seminars and educational sessions aimed at improving the knowledge of drug abuse among students. Public information materials such as flyers and posters, stickers, t-shirts and notebooks with anti-drug slogans were also produced and disseminated. The DDB conducted multiple training programs to reduce demand, including “Peer Group against Drugs” which involved 2,301 participants. In June, the DDB conducted a seminar called “Life Skills Enhancement in Drug Abuse Prevention” at the University of Negros Occidental Recoletos in Bacolod City. In July, the DDB held other seminars during the “Pasig City Students Campus Tour against Drugs.” In October, the DDB educated Nueva Ecija “out of school youth” about drug abuse with the participation of local government officials who delivered messages emphasizing that illegal drugs are a threat to Filipino youth and one of the most serious problems in society.
PDEA has also worked with non-governmental organizations to develop seminars for teachers on how to mentor students to pursue drug-free lifestyles. Most schools have integrated drug education programs into the general education curriculum.
In December 2014, a drug and bribery scandal in Bilibid Prison made the headlines of national newspapers for weeks. The scandal exposed alleged corruption in corrections management as a number of imprisoned drug lords were found to be “living like kings,” according to the Philippine Justice Secretary. The scandal involved officials accepting bribes, violating the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act, which mandates criminal penalties for corruption by public officials. Although the scandal drew extensive media coverage, no senior Philippine government official has been convicted of facilitating drug trafficking, and, as a matter of policy, the Government of the Philippines does not facilitate drug trafficking or the laundering of drug proceeds. Insufficient resources and judicial tools often lead to the dismissal of drug cases due to technicalities associated with the custody and disposition of evidence. Despite the dismissals, a large number of low-level drug cases remain, clogging court dockets and delaying justice.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
In 2015, U.S. foreign assistance continued to bolster the NAIA Task Group by providing both equipment and training. U.S. agencies also collaborated to institute a new bilateral comprehensive training program to select Philippine drug enforcement units in an effort to enhance law enforcement investigative abilities. These drug units work in both urban and rural environments throughout the country to combat local and foreign drug trafficking organizations.
Philippine authorities eagerly seek to cooperate with foreign governments, most significantly the United States, China, South Korea, and Australia on investigations involving international drug traffickers. The Philippines is also a member of various international enforcement organizations, including: INTERPOL, the Customs Cooperation Council, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Police (ASEAN-POL).
The Philippines is also using U.S.-developed curriculum to support training and professionalization of its substance use treatment workforce. With U.S. support, the program is establishing a cadre of national trainers who will disseminate the training throughout the country.
Improved senior leadership and increased cooperation between PDEA and the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Force (PNP-AIDSOTF) has significantly enhanced counternarcotic operations in the Philippines. With a recent change in leadership, the Bureau of Customs has become an increasingly active and participatory member in interagency efforts to interdict drug trafficking.
Despite progress, Philippine law enforcement capability to successfully prosecute high-volume drug traffickers remains hampered, due to the inability to use judicially authorized interception of criminal communications, limited use of plea bargaining, and an inefficient drug asset forfeiture system. Philippine authorities are faced with multiple challenges, including the expansion of Mexican-based trafficking organizations, ongoing domestic methamphetamine production, and confronting drug trafficking in rural areas where little state presence exists. The development of enhanced judicial investigative capabilities and imposition of money-laundering controls on casinos would allow the government to better combat the increasingly sophisticated drug trafficking organizations.