By Ellson Quismorio
The House committee on dangerous drugs chairman is batting for the creation of a composite seaborne patrol unit that can be deployed to rescue ships in distress or respond to suspicious vessels roaming the country’s eastern coast.
Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (Second District, Surigao del Norte) said elements of the unit should come from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and other anti-drug enforcement agencies.
The eastern seaboard includes the coastlines of Cagayan, Isabela, Samar, Sorsogon, and Albay where international drug syndicates supposedly offload their cargoes from vessels.
During the February 5 committee hearing on the smuggling of some P79-million worth of cocaine in Isabela, Philippine Navy and PNP officials admitted that the eastern seaboard — with its thousands of kilometers of shoreline — would be hard to patrol.
They noted the lack of specific authorities or government agencies to man these problem areas.
“There is no Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) or PNP Maritime Group personnel constantly manning the eastern seaboard,” Barbers said as one of his takeaways from the hearing.
“The Navy said there should be at least 3,000 men present or patrolling the area. But we have none,” he added.
Barbers pointed out that Jin Ming No. 16, the vessel suspected of offloading the cocaine in Isabela, left Hainan, China for Chile on December 12, 2017.
However, it was later monitored to be in the waters in Pambujan, Northern Samar early January this year. Nine members of the crew were on board at that time.
“We learned that Jin Ming No. 16, a considerably large sea vessel formerly registered in Taiwan and sold years ago to Togo, West Africa was cruising with fake documentation and was manned only by nine Chinese personnel before it ran aground in Northern Samar allegedly due to Typhoon Agaton,” Barbers said.
This meant that Jin Ming 16 was out of line, similar to a passenger jeepney with a Pasig-Quiapo franchise route but was caught loading and offloading passengers in Quezon City, the House official said.
“What is more suspicious or considered as a red flag is that the Jin Ming 16, according to our Navy officials, shut off its AIS (Automatic Identification System) when it entered Philippine waters,” Barbers further said.
AIS is a terrestrial or satellite data gathering system that provides information about the location, identification and other critical data of vessels that are required to have onboard tracking devices.
It could get worse
Any international drug syndicate that wants to dump drugs in the eastern seaboard – either for local consumption or as transshipment point — will not be detected due to the absence of patrols, and by just turning off the AIS, Barbers noted.
“These international drug syndicates, with their continuing skills and innovation, could have thoroughly studied the local situation to avoid being caught by local authorities.
“We should find a solution to this problem before the situation gets worse,” he stressed.
Police said the shipments of cocaine in Isabela and the 24 kilos of cocaine valued at P125 million that were recovered in Juag Lagoon in Matnog, Sorsogon on January 3 were tightly sealed and bared “R” markings.
In December 2016, several bricks of cocaine worth P100 million were found by fishermen some 100 meters off the shores of Tiwi, Albay, along the Lagunoy Gulf.
In 2009, 59 cocaine bricks worth P300 million were found floating off the Leyte-Samar area, particularly in the shorelines of Llorente, Balangkayan, San Policarpio and Maydolong towns in Eastern Samar.
In all these alleged smuggling incidents in the eastern seaboard, Barbers said the neatly packed and waterproof drugs were all recovered by fishermen.
“At present, we have no way of determining how many successful cocaine deliveries had been made on our shores, and who or what drug syndicates or cartel were responsible for it. We should find a way to resolve this problem before the country gains the reputation of being the top drug transshipment point in Asia,” he added.