Solons to maritime agencies: Beef up security vs transport of illegal drugs

The House committee on transportation has called on key inter-island transportation agencies to strengthen their capacity to detect and monitor the transport of illegal drugs and their chemicals, and paraphernalia for drug laboratories in light of the recent raid on a modern and highly fortified shabu factory/laboratory in the island-province of Catanduanes.

The committee chaired by Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes) made the call during the hearing on the plans and programs for 2016 and 2017 of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) maritime sector and related agencies, such as the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), and the Office of Transportation Security-Maritime Division (OTS).

Sarmiento expressed fears that if the modern shabu laboratory was able to exist in his home province of Catanduanes, then there is also a possibility that this might happen in other islands in the country if concerned agencies fail to improve their supervision of ports and guarding of the country's coastal waters.

Sarmiento recently filed House Resolution 585 directing the PCG, MARINA, OTS, LTO and other government agencies to intensify and coordinate their efforts to suppress the trafficking of illegal drugs within the country.

The seemingly lax security protocols being implemented in ports all over the country, which is being taken advantage of by drug syndicates, is contrary to the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to intensify the war against drugs, according to Sarmiento.

"Para matapos yang (shabu) laboratory na yan, siyempre yung mga parts and equipment have to be transported. That is why this has become a transport issue. We want to know the existing protocols when it comes to cargo. Baka sobrang tuon ng pansin sa safety ng passengers without paying much attention to stop the proliferation of illegal drugs," Sarmiento said.

Coast Guard Commandant Rear Admiral William Melad said they have canine units as their first line of defense. But he admitted the canines' capability is only limited to the detection of shabu, marijuana and explosives, and does not include the component parts for making them.

As an extra precaution, Melad said he will recommend that their frontline units study the equipment and paraphernalia being used for drug protection to effectively detect these materials.

Administrator Marcial Amaro III of MARINA said presently, they do not have any sanctions related to this. But in support of the intensified anti-drug campaign in ports, Amaro said they are willing to come up with a corresponding circular to make ship-owners also accountable for the goods they transport.

Deputy Speaker and Cebu Third District Rep. Gwendolyn F. Garcia(3rd District) narrated a similar incident that happened in Cebu in 2004 wherein around 70 barrels of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant used for cold medicines, were confiscated by the PCG in coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). The authorities cited the seized decongestant is also a component in the manufacture of shabu.

"There are red flags that can be detected. The PCG was able to confiscate those barrels of pseudoephedrine and charges were filed. So this all-out war against illegal drugs can be done through coordinated efforts with related agencies," said Garcia.

Garcia said the Cebu incident was a product of a joint operation of the NBI, PDEA and PCG. "Knowing fully well that the drug problem is worse than what we expected it to be, penetrating the entire fabric of our society, focus should also be directed now to the prevention of the influx of drugs and drug raw materials into our ports through proactive intelligence gathering on the part of the Coast Guard and MARINA, and coordination with the local government and concerned agencies and offices," Garcia emphasized.

Rep. Gerald Anthony V. Gullas, Jr. (1st District, Cebu) proposed that canine units also be trained to sniff drug manufacturing components such as ephedrine so that, even if it is legal to transport it, the necessary surveillance and investigation can be conducted on persons transporting them.

Sarmiento suggested to the Philippine National Police (PNP), PDEA and the PCG to also focus on the coastal waters as this may also be used as transport routes for illegal drugs.

Rep. Rodolfo T. Albano III (1st District, Isabela) recognized the enormity of the task, citing the country's shoreline is bigger than that of the Unites States. Even the US Coast Guard which has better equipment has a hard time effectively securing their shoreline, according to Albano.

Albano proposed that concerned agencies conduct independent studies on how to improve their services, with the corresponding budget to achieve it. He said Congress can help them in the next budget deliberation.

"The purpose of these hearings is to thresh out the needs and shortcomings of agencies so that additional budget for recommended appropriate measures, such as for the purchase of high-tech equipment, can be added in the next budget preparation," Albano said.

Gullas and Albano advised the agencies not to hesitate to ask help from Congress so that, apart from the inclusion of necessary procurement in the budget, the pertinent legislative initiatives can also be done to better equip them in the execution of their mandates.

"If there is any law hampering the accomplishment of your duties, it is our job here in Congress to amend this so you can execute your responsibilities easier," Albano said.

Source: House of Representatives

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