PDEA, PNP: Floating cocaine blocks may just be diversionary tactic

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Highlights

  • The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police say that the blocks of cocaine found floating on the country's shores may just be a distraction to allow drug syndicates to smuggle in more drugs.
  • However, PNP spokesperson SSupt. Bernard Banac says this is just based on assumptions, as authorities are just making sure that they stay ahead of drug syndicates.
  • Authorities are also looking into the possibility that the Philippines is being used as a drop-off point for cocaine to be shipped to another country.
  • The PNP and the Coast Guard said they would beef up security in the country's eastern seaboards, while the PDEA said they are coordinating with other countries about the floating cocaine.
  • The PDEA says there is a very little market for cocaine in the Philippines, with shabu, or methamphetamine hydrochloride, still being the top drug in the country.

Metro Manila (February 19, CNN Philippines) — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) both said that the floating blocks of cocaine found on Philippine shores may just be a distraction to allow drug syndicates to smuggle in more drugs into the country.

"'Yung posibilidad din na ito'y decoy lamang. Magkakaroon talaga pa ng shipment ng mga mas marami pang droga, na maaring, posibleng shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride). Sa mga nakaraang pangyayari, napatunayan natin na ito'y totoo rin," PNP spokesperson SSupt. Bernard Banac said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

[Translation: There is a possibility that this is just a decoy. There would really be a shipment of even more drugs, which may be shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride). In past instances, this has been proven true.]

However, Banac said this theory is only based on assumptions.

"Hindi tayo pwedeng maging kampante. Nakita na natin na may mga ganitong recoveries ng bloke ng cocaine, so bilang law enforcement agency, kailangan nating paghandaan at kung ano man ang iniisip ng kalaban natin," he said.

[Translation: We cannot be complacent. We saw that there are blocks of for whatever our opponents are thinking of.]

But PDEA Dir. Gen. Aaron Aquino is more inclined to believe that the estimated half a billion pesos worth of cocaine found drifting on the shores of Quezon province, Siargao, Dinagat Islands and Camarines Norte in the past two weeks are just diversionary tactics deployed by drug syndicates.

TIMELINE: Floating cocaine blocks in Philippine shores

"Bakit pinapayagan ng sindikato na [Why would syndicates allow that] they lost such amount of money? Kaya nga may GPS 'yan eh [That's why these have GPS] to locate. Eh bakit hindi nila nare-recover? [Why can't they recover these?]" PDEA chief Dir. Gen. Aaron Aquino told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

Aquino said some of the cocaine blocks that were found had GPS navigation systems on them, which he suspects are used by syndicates to warn fellow drug traders to avoid the area as they expect government authorities to flock there. But the PNP said the recent cocaine finds did not have any tracking systems attached to them.

 

The PDEA and the PNP said attention of government forces shift to search and retrieval of floating blocks of cocaine whenever its existence is reported, which could allow drug syndicates to ship in greater amounts of drugs.

"Mapapansin natin na nasa eastern seaboard ang distraction, so sa western side, bukas na bukas, walang mga pangyayari. Kung tayo ay magaaral ng istratehiya ... Itong western side, patuloy akong magmamanman diyan. Lalo kong paiigtingin ang aking seguridad, ang aking intelligence diyan dahil bukas 'yung ating western side," Banac said.

[Translation: We would notice that the distraction is at the eastern seaboard, so the western side is very open, nothing is happening there. If we would study strategy … I would continue to monitor at the western side. I would intensify my security and my intelligence there because the western side is open.]

Aquino said that since 2001, around ₱4.5 billion worth of cocaine have been retrieved from the country's coastlines. The PNP said it expects that more cocaine would be found in Region VIII.

 

Authorities are appealing to the public to report any discovery of cocaine blocks and tracking devices at sea.

PH a transshipment point?

Another angle authorities are looking into is the possibility that the Philippines is being used as a drop-off point for cocaine, for shipping to another country.

"Alam naman natin sa mga nakaraang taon, nakaraang pangyayari, talagang ang Pilipinas ay ginagamit nilang transshipment point," Banac said.

[Translation: We know that in previous years, in previous incidents, they are really using the Philippines as a transshipment point.]

 

Aquino said a large vessel would drop cocaine on Philippine shores, which would be picked up by smaller boats that would carry it to the country's coastline. These shipments would be sent to a warehouse to be repacked and sold to countries that consume the addictive stimulant sourced from the coca plant or synthesized.

However, Aquino admitted that authorities have yet to find such a warehouse.

Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde earlier said that intelligence reports show that syndicates may be using Philippine waters as drop-off points for illegal drugs.

Investigation is underway to determine the origin of these blocks of cocaine, but Aquino said that U.S lab tests indicate the cocaine found in 2018 were from Colombia. The Latin American country is known for drug production, with the UN reporting in September 2018 that 17 percent more land, or an additional 25,000 hectares, was used for coca cultivation in 2017 – a new record.

The PDEA and the PNP agree that the cocaine came from a foreign country, but have yet to pinpoint this.

Authorities are not discounting the possibility that the cocaine came from the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, whose leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, had been convicted in the U.S. for 10 federal criminal charges.

READ: Makati court finds alleged Sinaloa Mexican cartel member guilty of illegal drug sale

They are also looking into the possibility that the cocaine blocks originated from the neighboring Golden Triangle region, consisting of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, which is known for opium production.

The PNP, meanwhile, is not disregarding other theories, which include the possibility that the blocks of cocaine only drifted to the Philippines by accident.

Following the recent discoveries of cocaine, the Philippine Coast Guard and the PNP said they would intensify security at the country's eastern seaboard, where most of the drug was found.

Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said all Coast Guard stations have been told to intensify their monitoring, in response to remarks that the cocaine blocks were only meant as a distraction.

The PDEA is also communicating with Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia to inquire if they have had similar incidents of floating cocaine on their shores and are eyeing to work with European and Latin American countries on this matter as well.

'No market for cocaine in PH'

Aquino said there is a very small market for cocaine in the Philippines, compared to neighbors like China, Hong Kong and Australia, where the drug costs "like gold."

In the Philippines, he said, the drug of choice is still shabu, which costs ₱6,800 per gram – more than cocaine, which runs at ₱4,500 per gram.

Albayalde earlier said that there is no market for cocaine in the country, but House Dangerous Drugs committee chair Robert Ace Barbers said the surge in reports of floating cocaine in the past weeks shows that there might be a new market syndicates are looking into.

"I believe that there's a market in the Philippines, as well as this is the perfect venue for the syndicates to use as a transshipment point because we're a very porous island nation therefore it seems very easy for the drug syndicates," Barbers, who is also Surigao del Norte 2nd District representative, told The Source.

Barbers said lawmakers are pushing to reinstate the death penalty for drug offenses to dissuade smugglers from pouring in drugs into the Philippines.

However, the move has been stalled in the Senate, whose members are less receptive to reviving capital punishment which was abolished in 2006.

This story has been updated to include statements from PNP spokesperson SSupt. Bernard Banac.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.