By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

FILIPINOS take more than 20,000 kilos of illegal drugs each year, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) told a House of Representatives committee on Monday, underlining the growing menace of synthetic drug abuse and addiction.

A drug user takes about 0.25 gram of crystal meth, known in the Philippines as shabu, each week, PDEA Director General Moro Virgilio M. Lazo told the hearing, citing a survey by the Dangerous Drugs Board.

There are about 1.8 million drug users in the country.

Trafficking of synthetic drugs in East and Southeast Asia is surging, with new smuggling routes for crystal meth emerging and ketamine production expanding, the United Nations (UN) said in June.

High volumes of methamphetamine continue to be produced in Shan State, Myanmar and trafficked from there through Thailand and Laos as well as new routes through central Myanmar, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said in a report. 

Overall, authorities in Asia seized almost 151 tons of methamphetamine in 2022, lower than 171.5 tons in 2021 partly due to the new routes, according to the report.

“They (drug cartels) can afford to have a number of their shipments caught because thousands [of drugs] could still get away,” Party-list Rep. Jorge Antonio P. Bustos told the House hearing.   

Mr. Lazo said smaller vessels might be picking up illegal shipments mid-sea and bringing them to isolated areas to escape law enforcement.

Philippine authorities under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., have seized P30 billion worth of illegal drugs, said Surigao Del Norte Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers, who heads the House committee on dangerous drugs.

“This amount can most definitely finance the elections and victory of drug lords in our political arena,” he told the hearing. “Even a presidential campaign can be funded by this kind of war chest.”

Customs agents last week seized 323 kilos of crystal meth worth P2.2 billion hidden in meat jerky at the Manila International Container Port, supposedly from Mexico. 

Philippine authorities also seized 24,530 kilos of crystal meth worth P3.6 billion in Mexico, Pampanga province north of the capital on Sept. 24.

In August, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Manila Task Force seized 200 kilos of the drug worth P1.3 billion inside tea packages in an abandoned vehicle at a parking lot in the province’s Mabalacat City.   

In a separate buy bust on Sept. 14, 2022, agents seized more than P400 million worth of crystal meth inside Chinese tea bags in the same province.

The government might be using the drug seizures to justify the drug war, Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “They may even be laying the basis for reintensification of their war.”

But while anti-drug agencies report billions of pesos worth of seized shipments, “no big drug smuggler or big-time drug syndicate has been identified or arrested,” he said. “These drug lords and their syndicates remain unnamed.”

“We would have prevented the smuggling of illegal drugs if we have intercepted the transactions at the grassroots,” Pampanga Rep. Aurelio D. Gonzales, Jr., who sought the House investigation, told congressmen.

Police killed at least 342 suspects in drug raids in the first year of the Marcos government, according to the Dahas project under the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center.

Mr. Marcos has rejected an investigation by the International Criminal Court of his predecessor Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly drug war that killed thousands, saying it violates Philippine sovereignty.

Crystal meth was the leading drug of abuse among Filipinos in 2022, accounting for 92%, according to the Dangerous Drugs Board. It was followed by marijuana at 27% and the drug Ecstasy at less than 1%.

Mono-drug use is still the prevalent nature of drug use either by ingesting or inhaling it.