THE House Committee on Transportation has called on maritime transportation agencies to strengthen their capacity to detect and monitor the transport of illegal drugs, chemicals and paraphernalia for drug laboratories in light of the recent raids on modern shabu factory/laboratory in Catanduanes province.
Chaired by Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento (Lone District, Catanduanes), the committee made the call during the recent hearing on the plans and programs for 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, 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 of guarding the country’s coastal waters.
Sarmiento has 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 in 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,” Sarmiento said.
He 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.
MARINA Administrator Marcial Amaro III said that in support of the intensified anti-drug campaign in ports, his agency is willing to come up with a corresponding circular to make ship-owners also accountable for the goods they transport.
Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn F. Garcia (3rd District, Cebu) recalled a similar incident that happened in Cebu in 2004 wherein 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 that the seized decongestant is also a component in the manufacture of shabu.
“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,” Garcia said.
She 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, 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.
Rep. Rodolfo T. Albano III (1st District, Isabela) recognized the enormity of the task, citing the country’s shoreline is much longer than that of the Unites States.
“Even the US Coast Guard which has better equipment has a hard time effectively securing their shoreline,” Albano pointed out, while at the same time, proposing that concerned agencies conduct independent studies on how to improve their services, with the corresponding budget to achieve it.
“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.
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.