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A. Introduction

The Philippines is facing a growing illicit drug problem. Reported usage of "shabu," the street name of methamphetamine, continues to grow as the nation's most widely trafficked illegal drug, and shabu addiction remains the most significant drug problem in the Philippines. Marijuana is the second most abused drug and there is limited cultivation of cannabis within the Philippines, 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. Widespread poverty, corruption, and extremely porous borders create a lucrative environment for drug trafficking, with a relatively low risk of successful interdiction or prosecution.

The Government of the Philippines launched a controversial campaign against drug abuse and drug trafficking in 2016. Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June, the fight against illegal drugs and their impact on law and order has become the primary concern of the government, and police actions and vigilantism have resulted in more than 6,000 alleged extrajudicial killings. Law enforcement agencies, including the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG), and local police forces, have initiated an unprecedented number of anti-drug operations. Furthermore, the government has promoted a zero-tolerance stance towards drugs, seeking to demonstrate ties between drug trafficking and corruption among government officials, law enforcement officers, and politicians.

International organized crime groups have established operational elements throughout the urban areas of the Philippines. 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. Judiciary reforms are currently under consideration by the Philippine Congress, including the use of wiretaps for drug cases, plea bargaining for cooperating defendants, and quicker destruction of seized drugs.

B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends

1. Institutional Development

PDEA's personnel reportedly expanded in 2016, with the number of drug enforcement officers assigned to cases nationwide increasing from 804 to 944. PDEA employs 1,178 employees overall, and has 16 regional laboratory offices that employ 85 forensic chemists.

PDEA promotes effective interagency coordination to supplement its limited staff during major operations combating the smuggling of illegal drugs. In addition to PDEA, the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (PNP-AIDG) conducts operations against drug trafficking organizations. Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office and initiated a "whole-of-government" antidrug campaign, the total number of PNP-AIDG personnel has expanded from 100 to 321 (as of September). Formed in 2013, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Inter-Agency Drug Interdiction Task Group (NAIA IADITG) acts as an increasingly effective fusion center, bringing together officials from the PDEA, PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Bureau of Customs, and the 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 nine months of 2016, PDEA conducted 18,788 anti-drug operations that included dismantling seven clandestine methamphetamine laboratories, two drug storage warehouses, and several marijuana growing facilities. During these operations, PDEA filed 15,589 cases and arrested 15,715 individuals.

The Philippines produces and consumes marijuana, with cultivation occurring primarily in the remote, mountainous regions of Luzon and Mindanao. During the first seven months of 2016, PDEA completed 57 successful marijuana eradication operations, which resulted in the destruction of 316 growing sites and seizures valued at approximately $109 million. Also during this period, PDEA reported the seizure of 1.19 metric tons (MT) of cannabis products; 1.45 MT of methamphetamine; 2.4 kilograms (kg) of cocaine; 21,631 MDMA (ecstasy) tablets; and 5.8 kg of ephedrine.

Seizures from over the past several years 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 via cargo ships and fishing vessels originating in China, largely controlled by Chinese organized crime syndicates. Additionally, drug couriers use flights to and from the Philippines to smuggle drugs into the country and for transshipment to other countries.

Philippine law enforcement agencies note an increasing number of West African drug syndicates using human couriers to smuggle methamphetamine into the Philippines for transshipment and distribution throughout Southeast Asia. The Philippines also remains a destination for diverted chemicals used to produce methamphetamine due to weak chemical controls and inadequate port security.

3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment

According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB), there are 1.8 million current drug users in the Philippines, accounting for 1.8 percent of the total population. DDB plans to establish large-scale treatment and rehabilitation institutions for drug users throughout the Philippines through its partnership with the Department of Health, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the PNP. Along with its partner agencies,

DDB continues to formulate policies on drug prevention and control, develop and implement preventive education, treatment and rehabilitation programs, and conduct research on the drug abuse problem.

Though primarily an enforcement agency, PDEA also works with non-governmental organizations to develop seminars for teachers on mentoring students to pursue drug-free lifestyles. Most Philippines schools have integrated drug education programs into the general education curriculum.

4. Corruption

As part of the administration's campaign against illegal drugs, the Office of the President has publicly identified more than 170 individuals, including politicians, judges, mayors, congressmen, and police officers as complicit in the drug trade. Over the first 10 months of 2016, PDEA reported the arrest of 156 public officials for alleged ties to the drug trade.

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. Public suspicion of corruption among court officials and the judiciary remains widespread, although no impeachment or other punitive measures were undertaken by the judiciary for drug-related corruption in 2016. The House of Representatives held several hearings in 2016 into the alleged involvement of a senator and former Secretary of Justice in drug trafficking activities directed from inside a federal prison.

C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives

As part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's nationwide anti-drug campaign, the administration has advocated a no-holds barred approach including violence against both drug dealers and users. This has included making public statements encouraging the killing of drug traffickers, whether they resist arrest or not, and promises of immunity from legal prosecution for police involved in anti-drug operations. As of December 26, 2016, the media and PNP have reported that over 6,000 individuals have been killed, 2,155 in law enforcement operations and 4,049 by suspected vigilantes or unknown assailants. The international community, including the United States, the United Nations, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, have expressed serious concern about some of the Duterte administration's methods against drug criminals.

Historically, Philippine authorities have eagerly sought to cooperate with international partners on drug control and law enforcement issues, particularly with the United States, the People's Republic of China, South Korea, and Australia. In 2016, U.S. assistance continued to bolster the NAIA IADITG by providing both equipment and training. This cooperation resulted in several high-value drug interdictions in October, 2016. U.S. agencies also continued to collaborate through the bilateral comprehensive training program targeting selected PDEA regional units in an effort to enhance law enforcement investigative abilities. However, under the new administration, President Duterte's rhetoric has led to changes in law enforcement and drug control collaboration with the United States. In addition, broader uncertainty exists over whether other traditional levels of cooperation with the United States will continue.

D. Conclusion

Despite increased cooperation among PDEA, PNP-AIDG, and the AFP which has enhanced the effectiveness of anti-drug operations, the U.S. government remains concerned about several aspects of the Philippine government's anti-drug campaign. While law enforcement agencies have responded to the pressure for more effective drug investigations by implementing a large number of new operations nationwide, successful prosecution of significant drug traffickers remains hampered due to the inability to use judicially authorized intercepts of criminal communications, limited use of plea bargaining, and an inefficient drug asset forfeiture system. Development of enhanced judicial investigative capabilities and imposition of money-laundering controls on casinos would allow the government to better combat sophisticated drug trafficking organizations. The United States recognizes the PHP's commitment to fighting drugs, but is concerned that the Philippine government's approach raises significant concerns relating to human rights and due process. It also does not address the public health aspect of substance use disorder, which requires additional attention from the Government of the Philippines.

Philippine law enforcement authorities will continue to face multiple challenges, including expansion of Mexican cartels into the methamphetamine trade and drug money laundering operations; continued construction of domestic large-scale clandestine methamphetamine production laboratories; and drug trafficking groups based in rural areas where little permanent law enforcement presence exists.
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Title Annotation:Country Reports
Publication:International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2017
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