GenSan, NorthCot most problematic in Region 12 in terms of drug abuse

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 23 Nov) – The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Region 12 has taken special focus on this city and parts of North Cotabato province with its continuing intensified anti-drug operations in the region.

Aileen Lovitos, PDEA Region 12 director, said they consider the city and North Cotabato as the region’s most “problematic” areas in terms of the proliferations of illegal drugs, specifically of metamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, in the last several months.

Region 12, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Lovitos said illegal drug activities have thrived in North Cotabato due to its proximity to Cotabato City, which is considered as the region’s supply base for shabu and other related substances.

In this city, she said the illegal drug trade has proliferated as the area’s business-related developments and activities increased these past several years.

“We need to intensify and focus our operations more in these areas,” the official said in a press conference.

But Lovitos said their operations are ongoing in the entire region and they have made arrests of suspected drug pushers and traffickers on a weekly basis in the last several months.

Aside from drug pushers, she said they were also monitoring the possible involvement of some local politicians in the illegal drug trade.

The PDEA central office earlier launched a crackdown against politicians involved in the so-called “narco-politics” or the use of illegal drug money in funding election campaigns.

Lovitos refused to divulge further information regarding such campaign saying they don’t want to give out unconfirmed reports or information that were not properly validated.

“Our operations are focused against all persons involved in the illegal drug trade and we have not specifically targeted certain personalities and sectors,” she said.

Meantime, the official said Cotabato City has remained the top source of illegal drugs that have been proliferating in the region.

“From Cotabato City, they were distributed to other areas in the region through passenger buses, vans, motorcycles and vehicles carrying merchandises,” she said.

Lovitos said that based on their monitoring, it appeared that the illegal drugs supplies in the area came from producers based in Cotabato City.

She said they have not yet made any recovery of illegal drugs that were shipped through the region’s seaports and airports.

The PDEA has likewise strengthened its coordination mechanisms with counterparts in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in a bid to effectively resolve various illegal drug cases in the two areas.

Lovitos disclosed such move in response to a recommendation from the Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region 12 for the creation of a task force that will coordinate the operations of the PDEA offices in Region 12 and in the ARMM.

She said there’s no need for them to create such task force as both offices are under a single agency and have established coordination systems.

“We’ve been regularly comparing notes with regards to our operations and we have not encountered any problem so far in terms of the sharing of intelligence information and other related concerns,” Lovitos said in a press conference in Koronadal City.

Through tips from PDEA-ARMM, the official said they were able to intercept in the past months several shipments of illegal drugs, specifically shabu, from Cotabato City and Maguindanao that were delivered to this city.

She said they also traced some routes of illegal drug shipments in the region through the assistance of PDEA-ARMM.

In a resolution, the RDC 12 cited that there is a need to activate such task force to enhance the coordination of the two PDEA regional offices in the prevention and control of dangerous drugs in areas under their respective jurisdictions.

Region 12, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

“(But) PDEA 12 could not effectively perform its mandate in Cotabato City since the city is under the responsibility of PDEA-ARMM,” RDC’s Resolution No. 125 stressed.

City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, RDC 12 chairperson, said the creation of the task force was earlier endorsed by the council’s Macroeconomy, Development Administration and Finance Committee (MEDAFC) “in recognition of the region’s difficulty in fully addressing the drug abuse problem, particularly in Cotabato City.”

Lovitos said the PDEA central office has already sent a letter to the RDC 12 as official response to the latter’s resolution.

“Right now, we’re undertaking some joint initiatives, especially in terms of operations and intelligence sharing,” she said. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)