By Mar S. Arguelles
LEGAZPI CITY --- President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent statement that tagged Naga City as once a “hotbed” of crystal meth (shabu) has earned the ire of many Bicolanos.
However, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Bicol on Wednesday was fast in
defending the president.
Gil Castro, PDEA Bicol spokesperson when asked to comment on the President’s statement tagging Naga City as a hotbed of shabu said there are at least three factors as basis for the controversial statement. These are:
Proximity and connectivity. The proximity of the place to other progressive areas in the country where illegal drugs operation grows.
Castro in a phone interview said that based on the agency’s comprehensive assessment on the war on illegal drugs, Naga city’s proximity to other Bicol cities aand further north to Calabarzon and Metro Manila is a factor to be considered.
He said Naga City became the transshipment point of illegal drug trade operation because of its proximity to other progressive regions such as the Calabarzon, Metro Manila, including the Visayas regions.
“Bicol’s land and sea connectivity with other regions make us a transshipment point for illegal drugs operation – illegal drug trading operation are using the highways, and shorelines as the mode of transportation,” Castro said.
Festivals and conventions. The holding of festivals and conventions are also a factor where illegal drug operations thrive.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) in Bicol has lined-up yearly major festivals such as Penafrancia Festival in Naga City, Ibalong Festival in Legazpi City, Kasanggayahan in Sorsogon, Rodeo in Masbate and Abaca Festival in Catanduanes.
DOT has also considered the cities of Legazpi and Naga as convention hubs in Bicol.
He said Naga City has become among the top tourist destination in the country primarily because of the Feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia in September where millions of devotees, as well as local and foreign tourist, stay in this city to observe the weeklong religious event.
Castro said festivals, conventions where many people converge are places where illegal drug operators take advantage of unloading and selling their illegal drugs.
Christian Frivaldo PDEA Bicol regional director, when sought for comment said: “If the president said so then he must have a strong basis for that.”
He stressed that PDEA and PNP in Bicol have been relentlessly performing its task to address the drug problem not only in Naga but in the entire region.
“We will then intensify the cooperation and collaboration with other stakeholders in response to the President’s statement; this would be a challenge for us to clean up Naga from illegal drug operation,” Frivaldo said.
PDEA records indicate that for the period January to June this year it has carried out 337 drug operations where it has seized 6.3 kilos of crystal meth (Shabu), 26 kilos of cocaine and 516 grams of Marijuana with a total street value of P142.2 million.
The report said that during the period it has arrested in various drug operations in Bicol 426 drug personalities of which 82 were considered High-Value Targets (HVT) this include 3 foreign nationals (Nigerians), 2 government officials and nine government employees.
PDEA report showed that in 2016 it has confiscated a total of 4 kilos of crystal meth (shabu) and 981 grams of Marijuana worth P20.9 million.
While in 2017 it has seized 18 kilos of shabu; 22.9 grams of Marijuana worth P107.3 million.