Zero tolerance in Philippine war on drugs

No letup in war against drug smuggling.

The Philippine shipping liners are taking steps to combat drug smuggling but more needs to be done to plug the gaps in the porous maritime border.  

Local shipping companies in the Philippines are taking proactive measures to prevent being used in the smuggling of illegal drugs, adopting a “know-your-customers” approach at a time when the Philippine government continues to struggle with stamping out the drug menace in the Southeast Asian country.

Mark Matthew Parco, president of the Philippine Liner Shipping Association, said they have put policies in place to address the issue and will never tolerate being used in the local distribution or transportation of any imported illegal drugs into or around the country.  The shipping line organization accounts for about 80 percent of the volume at the Manila North Harbor, making them the backbone of coastwise trading in the Philippine archipelago.

“Each individual line observes its own ‘know-your-customer’ policy,’” Parco told Maritime Fairtrade, highlighting the overall and individual approach they have taken to combat drug smuggling.  “However, this is not a guarantee as there are transactions, especially pier to pier service, where stuffing and stripping of cargoes are done at customers’ warehouses.”

The group says there are about 22 out ports scattered in various locations in the central and southern regions of the Philippines where their member companies operate.

Drug smuggling at Philippine ports continue

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Spokesperson Derrick Carreon says the bulk of illegal drugs circulating in the country is smuggled in, reasoning that most of the domestic large-scale drug laboratories have already been dismantled under the government’s war on drugs.

“We are certain that the bulk of shabu that is circulating in the streets is from smuggled sources. And that our collaborative efforts with other drug law enforcement agencies has resulted in the constriction of supply of shabu” Carreon said in an interview with Maritime Fairtrade.

Carreon said international drug syndicates are mostly responsible for the illegal drugs’ proliferation in Philippine black market, identifying these groups to be the Golden Triangle Drug Syndicate, the African Drug Syndicate and the Mexican-Sinaloan Drug Syndicate.

The anti-narcotics official said crystal meth, known in the Philippines as “shabu,” continues to be smuggled into the country mainly by the Golden Triangle Syndicate.  Many of these are reportedly packaged in Chinese tea bags to give the appearance that they came from China, according to previous claims by the head of the government agency.

In the Philippine black market, a kilogram of crystal meth sells for 6.8 million pesos or about US$142,597. 

On the other hand, kush, a psychoactive drug derived from a specific strain of the marijuana plant, is smuggled in by the Mexican-Sinaloan drug group. 

“Marijuana is also endemic to our country, but there is also marijuana kush, a different species that is imported from the USA and Mexico. So, to call marijuana as ‘imported’ may not be accurate unless you specify that it is kush,” Carreon explained.


Philippine anti-narcotics agents arrest three suspects during a buy-bust operation in the capital, Manila. Arrest yields six kilos of meth crystal.
(Photo provided to Maritime Fairtrade by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency)


Successes and lessons amid failure

“The decrease in the figures of smuggled drugs indicates the positive effect of our intensification of border security and control measures in our ports of entry,” Carreon said when asked about the latest running statistics of illegal drugs that were seized in Philippine ports.

Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency suggest some decline in the entry of illegal drugs in the Philippines in the last few years, if the yearly volume of seized contraband is an indication.

From a high of 614 kilograms of crystal meth seized by Philippine authorities in seaports in 2017, it has since dwindled the following year to 355.85 kilograms. In 2019, it rose to 422.81 kilograms before settling to a low of 20.62 kilograms in 2020.

Carreon said that due to the archipelagic nature of the country, it is challenging to monitor the country’s porous borders, making the Philippines a potential transshipment point for drug cartels.

Parco, to address this security situation, recommends the government to step up its efforts in developing its maritime capabilities.

“Perhaps the Philippine Coast Guard should identify sea lanes frequented by merchant vessels and rate these according to least danger zones to highly critical, including areas known as ‘dead or blind spots,” he said, adding that deployment of personnel, patrol rounds, and maintenance of substations can then be decided once these have been identified.

The Philippine Coast Guard should also be provided adequate funding to improve its maritime capabilities, Parco added.

On a rating of 1 to 5, with five being the highest, Parco said the Philippines would currently score a 2 when it comes to maritime security, leaving a massive space for improvement for the government.

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

subscribe maritime fairtrade

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • Event offers and discounts
  • News & key insights of the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on corruption and more