‘Name narco-politicos’ US report on drugs sets off alarm bells

‘Name narco-politicos’ US report on drugs sets off alarm bells
By Norman Bordadora, Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—A flurry of calls for names to be named was raised Wednesday in reaction to the United States’ expressed concern about the possibility of narco-politics influencing the Philippine elections on May 10.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the US Department of State itself should name the candidates receiving drug money from traffickers for their campaign, “so that the voters would know and give time for these candidates to explain and deny” the accusation.

“It’s also important to know this so that any presidential candidate is not … held by the neck by drug lords,” Escudero told reporters.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, the vice presidential candidate of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) and president of the United Opposition, urged the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to produce a list of politicians benefiting from the multibillion-peso drug trade.

But Binay warned against “a witch-hunt” in the media during the election period, and said the list should include only those politicians whose links to drug syndicates were backed by solid evidence.

“If the authorities have a roster of the most wanted kidnappers why can’t [they come] up with an order of battle for drug lords and narco-politicians?” Binay said in a statement.

“We need specific targets so we can build airtight cases against them that can stand in court, and so the war against drugs will claim no collateral damage that destroys reputations and civil liberties, especially during an election season when such accusations are easy to concoct and circulate,” he said.

Commission on Elections Chair Jose Melo, who was in the Senate Wednesday, said the finding of the US state department was “dangerous.”

But Melo said the Comelec had not heard of such a development in the local scene. He said the poll body was busy ensuring that the first automated elections in the country would be clean.

Check sources of donations

Former Dangerous Drugs Board Chair Vicente Sotto III said candidates for elective posts should check the sources of their donations.

“To prevent drug money from seeping into the polls, the candidates themselves should refrain from accepting financial assistance from unknown sources,” said Sotto, a senatorial candidate of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

“Unfortunately, some of these candidates might have already been infiltrated. Vigilance is the key,” he said.

Show proof

Reelectionist Sen. Jinggoy Estrada challenged the PDEA to show proof for its report to the US State Department that drug money could influence the results of the 2010 elections.

“The PDEA should substantiate the report so we can know if there is truth to it. If that is the case, we are in a very dangerous situation,” said the eldest son of ousted President Joseph Estrada, who is also seeking reelection.

Another PMP senatorial candidate, former Sen. Francisco Tatad, claimed that in a small town in Mindanao, votes could be bought for as much as P15,000 each.

“It’s a drug center,” he said.

Tatad said candidates who were spending the most in their campaign should reveal the sources of their funds.

“[When] the local campaign kicks in on March 26, you might find local candidates spending incredible sums of money,” he said.

Shabu in rice imports

Sen. Richard Gordon, the standard-bearer of the Bagumbayan party, wants the PDEA to look into reports that a rice importation to the Visayas included shipments of “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride).

Gordon cited reports that the rice came “mainly from Vietnam” and entered the country through Bacolod, Iloilo and Capiz.

He said he had planned to investigate the matter as the chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee but that lack of time prevented him from doing so.

“I suspect shenanigans with the [National Food Authority] rice importation. I was supposed to investigate shabu in Bacolod but we ran out of time. I would have wanted the Senate to investigate,” he said.

Gordon said narco-politics could be behind the shipments.

“It could be fund-raising for elections so I suspect narco-politics, but I have no proof. But I have been getting too much noise. Some are even saying everybody knows who’s behind it in Capiz,” he said.

Gordon said he had alerted the PDEA about the shipments “not only in Bacolod but also in many ports around the country.”

“I am expressing alarm,” he said. “The stories I’ve heard are that these are wholesale deliveries. Even the PDEA guy who briefed me said there are a lot of drugs in Iloilo and Capiz. I admonish all port operators to be on the lookout.”

The senator said slipping shabu among the sacks of imported rice could be considered a double whammy.

“At the very least, they are giving us less rice. And at the very most, reports said they bring in ammonium sulfate that can be used for explosives and as an adulterator for shabu. So you have less rice and also low-quality shabu!” he said.

6 in W. Visayas

Paul Ledesma, the PDEA director in Western Visayas, said six candidates in the region had been monitored since last year for drug links.

“We have established their links with known personalities and groups involved in the drug trade,” he told the Inquirer in Iloilo City.

Ledesma said some of the candidates had served as legal counsel for drug personalities and groups, and that others had been monitored as regularly meeting with these groups.

He said the candidates were running for various positions from councilor to congressman in the provinces of Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Antique and Capiz.

Ledesma said the drug groups and personalities had expanded their operations from bribing and influencing law enforcers, members of the judiciary and of the prosecution system to “infiltrating” the legislative and policymaking bodies.

He said officials who had friendly relations with drug groups could use their position to protect the operations of the traffickers.

“It is common knowledge who these candidates are. But we have yet no proof to hold water in court. As soon as we have enough evidence, we will file cases against them,” Ledesma said.

No. 1 region

Randy Pedroso, the PDEA director in Central Visayas, said the agency had been keeping close tabs on persons involved in narco-politics as part of its work.

He said the vigorous campaign has made Central Visayas the No. 1 region in the PDEA’s fight against illegal drugs.

Pedroso said that in 2009, the PDEA had seized P26 million worth of illegal drugs, mostly marijuana and shabu. Last year’s figures represented a big leap from the P4 million worth of drugs seized in 2008.

He said a total of 1,075 operations conducted in 2009 resulted in the arrest of 1,220 drug personalities, all of whom were charged in court.

2 candidates

According to Pedroso, the active participation of the public made it possible for the PDEA and the Philippine National Police to successfully wage their anti-drug campaign in 2009.

He said two candidates—one for councilor in Cebu City and the other for board member in Bohol—were being investigated.

He said the two candidates had a history of arrests because of their involvement in illegal drugs. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño in Manila; Nestor P. Burgos Jr. and Chito O. Aragon, Inquirer Visayas

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.