ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR is the most critical province in Zamboanga Peninsula taking into account the existence of armed groups affiliated with local drug groups and the emergence of narco-politics.
This was the report of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Regional Director Adzhar Albani during the 2nd quarterly regular meeting of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) here last June 30.
Zamboanga del Sur has remained a “critical area” in spite the efforts of the authorities and even after Governor Auring E. Cerilles waged war against it last January 9, he intimated.
Governor Cerilles, RPOC chair was saddened by the PDEA report, but confident that the PDEA, the PNP and the military can steadfastly pursue the fight.
She was not also surprised to hear the report since her province is the gateway of drug trafficking from Misamis Occidental, the Lanao provinces, Cotabato and Zamboanga City.
Cerilles claimed that Zamboanga del Sur is a little bit better than before she public declared war against illegal drugs and formed the task force kontra droga. As a result, some of the drug syndicates here moved to other cities like Cebu City and Dumaguete City. “Medyo scarce na ang supply dahil mahal na ang presyo”, she said.
But Albani tried to appease the Governor by saying: “If Zamboanga del Sur is a “critical area” for drugs, Sulu province is “extra-ordinary because there has never been an arrest of suspected drug trafficker in Sulu. The police there are discouraged since the other pillars of the justice system are not working.
Albani likewise commended Zamboanga del Sur for its strong position against drugs and the all-out support of local government officials, PNP, the military and the PDEA official.
But as PDEA is still working for a drug-free Philippines with a mission to bring down the illegal drug problem of the country to a petty level from a national security threat, the last-termer governor is aiming for a drug-free Zamboanga del Sur by 2010 and beyond, keen observers say.
Cerilles admitted that her fight against illegal drugs has significantly changed her lifestyle and of her family. “We can no longer simply go out at night because of the death threats we receive,” she said.
In her opening statement, Governor Cerilles reiterated her war against illegal drugs at same time she vowing to ultimately destroy the dens and expel the presence of notorious elements in the region.
The RPOC chair said that in due time the illegal drug problem in the region will be ultimately contained if authorities and the community are united against the spread of illegal drugs.
As to the extent of illegal drugs trade in the region, Albani said that traffickers transport the effects by air, sea and land – from China to Zamboanga City seaport which has a direct link to Sandakan, Malaysia. Another route is Ozamis-National Capital Region to Sandakan-Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga City.
“In chasing after target drug personalities, we have to be innovative. We are contemplating to deputize PNP personnel throughout the region to address the legal battle in court. We want our policemen to be clothed with authority. If we are united ultimately this problem can be eradicated”, Albani said.
As to the Zamboanga del Sur anti drug operations, Albani reported that PDEA usually conduct a joint operation with the PNP and the Army’s 53rd IB. From January 1 – June 29, 2009, there were 74 joint operations which collared 117 suspects (100 males and 17 females) and confiscated 132.428 grams of shabu.
PNP Provincial Director Ramon Ochotorena, for his part appreciated PDEA’s report citing that with PDEA looking at this province as a critical area for illegal drugs it would mean that they will focus their attention on Zamboanga del Sur vis-à-vis the PNP will also double its effort to eradicate illegal drugs trade in the province.