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Philippines Cracks Down on Drug Trafficking - 2003-06-19


The Philippine government has launched a three-month crackdown on illegal drugs as the country has been identified as a major transshipment point for international drug syndicates in East Asia.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo gave law enforcement three months to neutralize local and international drug syndicates and arrest their leaders and protectors.

The Philippines has been struggling to curb drug trafficking and abuse for decades. The Drug Enforcement Agency says there are now 13 international and 175 local drug syndicates operating in the country, some allegedly shielded by corrupt police, military and government officials.

The United Nations has identified the Philippines, along with China and Burma, as one of the main sources of manufactured methamphetamines in East Asia. Last year alone, Philippine police seized nearly three tons of the pills.

"The Philippines is becoming an important link in drug trafficking in the area for geographical reasons, to facilitate transport through the Pacific as well as the regional transport to Japan," said Sandro Calvani, head of the U.N. office on drugs and crime in Asia. "And also because there is a growing internal market of amphetamines," he continued.

There are more than three million drug users in the Philippines, roughly four percent of the nation's population. And more than 70 percent of the country's inmates are in jail for drug related offenses.

President Arroyo's war on drugs comes more than a month after Thailand concluded a similar but violent crackdown, where more than 2,000 people were killed in a three-month campaign.

Mr. Calvani notes the Philippines' drug problem is similar Thailand's five years ago.

"The success [of the Philippine government's campaign] will depend on how much of the population would understand," he said. "If the people understand it is a serious issue for their country; families, religious movements, civil society would be involved. Otherwise, it would be left only to law enforcement like what happened in Thailand at the beginning of the campaign. Some good result might be obtained … but then it is harder to sustain if the demand remains the same."

Human rights groups say Thailand has resorted to summary executions of suspected traffickers and pushers, but the government defended its tough policy.