BY GLENDA TAYONA and RUBY SILUBRICO
ILOILO City – Drug traffickers from outside Western Visayas exploit the region’s porous coastlines to gain entry, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). To address this security concern, the agency spearheaded the formation of the Seaport Inter-agency Drug Interdiction Task Group (SIDTG).
“In forming SIDTG we are making a statement: we are dead serious in waging the President’s all-out war against illegal drugs,” said PDEA Region 6 director Alex Tablate.
Aside from PDEA, the SIDTG is made up of the following law enforcement agencies: Bureau of Customs, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police – Regional Maritime Unit, Maritime Industry Authority, Philippine Ports Authority, National Intelligence Coordination Agency, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The antidrug campaign should be a collaborative effort, said PDEA Region 6 director Alex Tablate, “because in reality no single entity could solve this recurring problem by itself.”
Drug traffickers were constantly finding ways to get around government anti-drug measures and the SIDTG would be addressing this, he stressed.
SIDTG was launched on Feb. 7 at the Iloilo International Port in Barangay Loboc, Lapuz district here.
These past two years, authorities have been gaining headway in the campaign, said Tablate, citing the drop in the supply of shabu.
But “there are still persistent drug personalities…especially those we categorize as ‘transient drug peddlers’ from Mindanao, Central Visayas and Luzon,” he said.
They exploit “our vast coastlines” to their advantage, said Tablate.
The SIDTG would be pressing for measures primarily designed to safeguard various port of entries in the region.
Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, director of the Police Regional Office 6, shared PDEA’s observation.
“According to our intelligence personnel, illegal drugs from Cebu, Negros Oriental and some parts of Mindanao are being transported through vessels. Drug traffickers find less difficulty in slipping illegal drugs sa mga seaports natin sa Bacolod at Negros Island,” Bulalacao said.
Because of this, the regional police is now focusing on Negros Island, specifically Bacolod City, he said.
Bulalacao agreed with Tablate that the supply of shabu, most especially in Iloilo,, dwindled.
“Wala na tayong masyadong concern sa illegal drugs sa Iloilo. Wala na masyadong drug pushers. If there are any, hindi taga rito. Kasi na-neutralize na ang mga malalaking drug groups dito,” said Bulalacao.
Tablate announced recently that no centralized drug syndicate was operating in Iloilo City anymore.
“Unlike before, wala ng isang grupo na nagko-control…Ang laki nang difference,” he said.
Drug trafficking persists, according to Tablate, but he described the traffickers as mostly “transients” or from other areas.
A man and woman from Cebu arrested last month in Barangay Rizal Estanzuela, City Proper were “indicators” that “Iloilo City is no longer controlled by a centralized drug syndicate compared to previous years,” said the PDEA Region 6 director.
The suspects, both residents of Naga City in Cebu province, yielded P.750-million worth of shabu intended for the recent Dinagyang Festival.
“You can compare. Ano ‘yung status ng Iloilo way back in 2016 pababa at ngayon? Ang laki ng difference,” said Tablate.
In August 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte tagged Iloilo as “most shabulized” in the country.
According to Senior Superintendent Martin Defensor, Iloilo City police director, there had been a significant decline in the volume of confiscated illegal drugs in 2018.
“Last year we launched almost the same (number of) anti-drug operations as in 2017 pero ang amount of drugs na na-confiscate na-reduce by 50 percent, an indication na bumaba talaga ‘yung pumasok na supply sa city,” said Defensor.
In 2018, the city police apprehended 282 suspects in 197 operations while in 2017, the number of anti-drug operations conducted reached 199, resulting to the arrest of 306 suspects.
ICPO data also showed 14.5343 grams of marijuana and 328.5561 grams of shabu were seized in 2018, down from 254.9287 grams of marijuana and 668.9716 grams of shabu confiscated in 2017.
But there’s more work to do, said Tablate and Defensor. Of Iloilo City’s 180 barangays, only 10 were considered “unaffected” by illegal drugs.
Of the 170 drug-affected barangays, 69 were deemed “slightly affected”, 93 “moderately affected” and eight “seriously affected.”
So far, only four barangays were “drug-cleared.” These were barangays Luna and Santa Isabel in Jaro district; Barangay Sampaguita in the City Proper; and Barangay Quezon in Arevalo district.
PDEA-6 identified the following villages as “hot spots”: Bakhaw in Mandurriao district; Tanza-Esperanza, Zamora-Melliza and Rizal Pala-pala in the City Proper; Desamparados and Cubay in Jaro; San Juan and Boulevard in Molo district; Santo Niño Sur in Arevalo; and Rizal in La Paz district./PN