Updated March 01, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON – The US State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including the Philippines, Cambodia, and Myanmar, while progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.
The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines “immense,” despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations.
Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.
In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.
The report noticed “a significant and growing illegal drug problem” in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.
Laos has made “tremendous progress” in reducing opium cultivation, but the report said the country’s momentum is “stalling, and gains remain precarious.”
Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.
The report said that in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State
Department did not receive 2008 UN statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.
The US on Friday also praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers, but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.
While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, “corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish,” the report said.
North Korean drug activity, the report said, “appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years.”
But the State Department said not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped.
The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.
‘RP Constitution violated’
The new State Department 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) also said that the forced assignment of 18 previously convicted but pardoned military officers to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to replace many experienced law enforcement officers not only lowered the agency’s morale but apparently violated the Philippine Constitution, just as it would in the US which forbids the use of military personnel in law enforcement capacities.
The controversial case of three suspected wealthy drug pushers called the “Alabang Boys” was included in the State Department’s report on the drug situation in the country.
The report highlighted the lack of investigatory discipline that has impeded the PDEA’s effectiveness.
It also cited the premature arrest of suspects that has led to numerous case dismissals due to lack of sufficient evidence for prosecution and the slow judicial process to prosecute drug dealers.
In 2008, the report said three clandestine shabu laboratory operators arrested in 2004 were sentenced to life imprisonment.
“The slow judicial process not only demoralizes law enforcement personnel but also enables drug dealers to continue their drug business between court dates,” the report said.
In addition to employing the pardoned mutineers, the report said the PDEA has replaced many experienced law enforcement officers at the regional director and service director level with active duty military officers, with the ranks of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel.
“This apparently violates the Philippine Constitution just as it would in the US (Article 16 Section 5 Paragraph 4 of the Philippine Constitution mirrors the US Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1385, forbidding the use of military personnel in law enforcement capacities), despite claims that the officers’ orders were endorsed by the Office of the President and so are exempt from constitutional concerns,” the report said.
“The military officers are often forceful leaders, but have no training in civilian law enforcement or court procedures. Cases produced by their offices/teams are frequently dismissed by the PDOJ for lack of evidence and violations of defendants’ rights, leaving the arresting officers potentially liable for civil suit, PDOJ/judicial chastisement, etc.,” it added.
For the loss of the cases, the report said PDEA leaders often blame prosecutors rather than improve internal procedures.
“The PDEA Director General’s public feud with the Secretary of Justice over one of these cases, known in the Philippine media as the ‘Alabang Boys’ case, has quickly infected relations between PDEA and DOJ nationwide; PDEA agents bringing cases to DOJ are now treated with suspicion and contempt by prosecutors and court staff,” the report said.
“This severely harms the morale of young PDEA agents who have been trained to do cases the right way, but whose military supervisors frequently don’t give them time or resources to do so,” it added.
The report also said the continued use of untrained military officers in the role of law enforcement supervisors will adversely affect the ability of the PDEA to enforce drug laws, lending support to the argument for making the PNP and NBI drug task forces permanent and relatively autonomous from PDEA.
The report said enforcement remains a high priority for the administration of President Arroyo with the PDEA as the lead counter-narcotics agency.
The US State Department said counter-narcotics and anti-crime programs also complement the war on terrorism, both directly and indirectly, by promoting modernization of and supporting operations by foreign criminal justice systems and law enforcement agencies charged with the counter-terrorism mission. – AP, Pia Lee-Brago