BY IME SORNITO and RUBY SILUBRICO
ILOILO City – For drug traffickers, the Dinagyang Festival is a lucrative event. Proof of this was Tuesday’s arrest of a couple from Cebu. Nearly a million pesos worth of shabu was seized three days before the festival’s opening salvo, alarming the police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Western Visayas.
The Dinagyang opening salvo is on Jan. 11. A series of crowd-drawing activities would then be held leading to the Jan. 27 festival highlight, the ati-ati tribes competition.
PDEA-6 director Alex Tablate said his men have stepped up their monitoring of seaports and airports. He described these as “crucial” entry points.
The couple arrested on Tuesday in Barangay Rizal Estanzuela, City Proper entered Iloilo via a roll on, roll off ship from Cebu, according to the Police Regional Office 6’s Regional Drug Enforcement Unit (RDEU).
“They have contacts here and in Bacolod City. Binabagsak nila dito ang shabu. May mga tao sila na tagarito na magdi-dispose. Kung maubos, balik naman sila sa Cebu to get more stocks,” said Senior Inspector Marc Valles Dado, RDEU officer-in-charge.
RDEU learned that the confiscated shabu was intended for the Dinagyang from text messages found in the suspects’ mobile phones.
Among their clients were students, call center agents and government employees, said Dado.
“Kung hindi natin nahuli, malaki-laki ang supply para sa Dinagyang Festival and even for the Jaro fiesta (on Feb. 2),” he added.
The suspects – 28-year-old Raymond Baclado and 22-year-old girlfriend Janice Pansoy of Barangay Naalad, Naga City, Cebu – have been trafficking shabu in Iloilo and Bacolod cities for some three months now, said Dado.
“We have been monitoring their operation since November last year after a companion of theirs was arrested in Bacolod City,” he said.
To secure seaports and airports, Tablate said PDEA-6 needed more dogs trained to detect illegal drugs. It currently has three.
On Jan. 8, according to Tablate, his men conducted a “K9 paneling” or inspection at the seaport of Dumangas, Ilolo using trained dogs.
Yesterday, PDEA-6 brought its drug-sniffing dogs at the Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan, Iloilo.
Tablate, however, stressed an important component in PDEA-6’s antidrug campaign – community cooperation.
He also said PDEA-6 would be prioritizing the neutralization of high-value drug targets.
Barangay drug-clearing operations, too, would be given more emphasis, according to Tablate whose last assignment was as deputy director of PDEA in Region 8 (Eastern Visayas).
“We have to prioritize high-value targets and barangay drug clearing because these are our mandates. We hope barangay officials will help us,” said Tablate.
In December 2018 Tablate replaced Emerson Margate whom the PDEA central office sacked for the delayed filing of criminal charges against three arrested brothers-in-law of slain drug lord Melvin Odicta Sr.
No such similar incident should happen again, said Tablate./PN