UCA News

Biggest Philippine drug bust triggers call for reform

About two tons of narcotics worth US$288 million seized in Batangas
A police officer keeps record after the seizure of about two tons of illegal methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as shabu, at Alitagtag, Batangas in the southern Luzon region, on April 15.

A police officer keeps record after the seizure of about two tons of illegal methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as shabu, at Alitagtag, Batangas in the southern Luzon region, on April 15. (Photo: Philippine National Police)

Published: April 16, 2024 11:22 AM GMT
Updated: April 16, 2024 11:55 AM GMT

A top rights activist has slammed the Philippines government for its poor handling of drug trafficking and called for reform in drug war policy following the biggest illegal drug bust in the country’s history.

Police seized about two tons or 2,000 kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as shabu, worth 13.3 billion pesos from a private vehicle at a police checkpoint at Alitagtag, Batangas in the southern Luzon region, on April 15.

The massive drug haul prompted President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to personally inspect the inventory on April 16, according to the police.

“I would also like to point out, this is the biggest shipment of shabu [that was intercepted] but no one died or [was] injured, and the operation was done slowly and peacefully,” Marcos said, as he commended the law enforcement agencies behind the intelligence-driven anti-narcotics operation.

“That should be our approach to the drug war. What’s important is we stop the shipment of illegal drugs to the country,” he told the reporters on April 16.

Police also arrested the driver of the vehicle, identified as 47-year-old Ajalon Michael Zarate of Quezon City. He was placed under police custody after being charged with the violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Captain Luis de Luna, chief of the Alitagtag Municipal Police Station, who led the operations, was quickly promoted to a higher rank by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

“On behalf of Alitagtag Municipal Police Station, it just reflects my view on determination and dedication to my work. That is because our faith in God is our weapon in our daily service to the people,” said De Luna during the recognition of their efforts on April 15.

A probe has been launched on the origins of the drugs, which surpassed the previous amount of 1,589 kilograms of shabu worth US$194 million seized on March 15 last year in Infanta, Quezon City.

The drug haul showed the government’s policy of “bloodless and preventive-centered campaign” against illegal drugs is on the right track,” Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos said on April 15.

Carlos Conde, a senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the drug bust in Batangas “only proves that going after the illicit drug trade can be done without violence if authorities do their job and follow due process.”

“Killing drug users will never solve the problem. The challenge now is for President Marcos to do the right thing: equivocally declare an end to the violent drug war, rescind all Duterte-era orders that operationalized the ‘drug war,” Conde told UCA News, referring to the deadly anti-drug war by former president Duterte that claimed thousands of lives of alleged drug dealers and users.

“In junking ‘drug war’ as state policy, Marcos needs to institutionalize harm reduction as a strategy in dealing with illegal drugs. Harm reduction puts a premium on the rights of people who use drugs. Drug use is a public health issue. It’s time for Mr. Marcos to walk the talk on drug policy reform,” Conde added.

From July 2022 to December 2023, a total of 49,700 drug suspects were arrested in 36,803 anti-drug operations, the government said.

The anti-drug war in the Catholic-major Philippines was criticized globally when Rodrigo Duterte's government carried out the drug war from 2016-2022, which resulted in the alleged death of an estimated 12,000 to 30,000 victims, mostly poor drug suspects, rights groups say.

Duterte is facing a probe from the International Criminal Court over the drug killings. However, Marcos said he would not cooperate with the ICC probe on his predecessor.

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