The drug courier problem is a huge challenge against our government, especially for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Over the years, the emerging trend in transporting illegal drugs using “drug couriers” has become a worldwide concern because it poses serious threats to health, it violates human rights and it cultivates illegal activities and other crimes such as trafficking and prostitution.
Drug mules or “drug couriers” are individuals who transport dangerous drugs in exchange for a huge amount of money, depending on the amount of drugs to be delivered and the route/distance to be traveled.
Alarmingly, the number of Filipinos victimized as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates is increasing. In 1993, there were only 2 recorded Filipinos arrested abroad for drug trafficking. At present, the figure ballooned to 710:
It has been a noticeable trend that more female Filipino drug couriers are being exploited by drug trafficking syndicates: Of the 710 arrested, 265 or 37% are males while 445 or 63% are females. Women are usually targeted by syndicates since they generally generate mild suspicion from authorities and the female body has more cavities possible to insert the drugs in, therefore posing less detection risk.
METHODS OF CONCEALMENT
Methods of Concealment of Arrested Couriers Abroad
- Hidden in luggage/suitcases (38%)
- Ingestion/Swallowing (29%)
- Placed in shoes (7%)
- Placed in bottom part of luggage (5%)
- Placed inside handbag (4%)
- Others (17%): Undergoing minor operation, placing in shoeboxes/books/bottles/parcels, etc.
Drug Seized from Arrested Couriers in the Philippines
- Heroin (1%)
- Cocaine (18%)
- Shabu (81%)
Arrested Drug Couriers in the Philippines had a similar method of concealing illegal drugs; hidden in side panels of their luggage and false compartments
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE DRUG COURIER PROBLEM
Filipinos are usually enticed by the offer because of the syndicates’ promise of love/marriage, as have been recorded in several arrests involving Filipina drug couriers. Others are lured by the opportunity to travel and the promise of a comfortable life while others want a high-paying job and easy money.
The drug courier problem can also be attributed to the following factors:
- The prevalence of poverty
- Poor educational background
- Easy money
- The idea of traveling
Couriers are usually recruited by casual acquaintances they meet in key cities here or abroad, mostly fellow Filipinos connected to drug syndicates like the African Drug Syndicate (ADS), offering plane tickets, hotel accommodation and huge amounts of money. In some instances, members of syndicates befriend/marry potential recruit then later turn him/her into a courier or cohort. On the other hand, unwitting victims were duped by acquaintances into carrying packages in exchange for money, not knowing that drugs were placed inside.
Opium Poppy - Couriers may also be recruited through the internet and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Tagged, etc. Syndicates also engage in travel & tours businesses/agencies to arrange airline and hotel bookings of the couriers and use fraudulent documents/fake credit cards.
The ADS is believed to be behind the alarming increase of Filipino drug couriers arrested abroad. They deliver drugs to their connections in different points around the world by employing drug couriers to prevent the risk of getting caught themselves. They also use Filipinos as cohorts to recruit fellow OFWs.
The ADS is an international syndicate involved in drug trafficking and cyber crimes. They use stolen and/or falsified documents to go about with their transaction (i.e. purchase of plane tickets, hotel bookings) and usually communicate with their cohorts thru phone or the internet. Members are proficient in English and well-versed, very persistent and are generally friendly which makes them recruit potential victims easily.
When arrested, the punishment given to arrested drug couriers may vary from repatriation, imprisonment (ranging from 6 months to lifetime imprisonment), payment of fine, confiscation of personal belongings, and/or death penalty.
THE TASK FORCE DRUG COURIER
The Task Force Drug Couriers (TFDC) was created on February 08, 2010 by virtue of Administrative Order No. 279. It is an inter-agency team tasked in the deterrence, prevention and protection of Filipinos from being victimized as drug couriers by international drug trafficking syndicates. The Task Force is composed of 13 agencies, chaired by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and co-chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs with the following agencies as members:
- Bureau of Customs
- Bureau of Immigration
- Commission on Higher Education
- Department of Justice
- Department of Labor and Employment
- Manila International Airport Authority
- National Bureau of Investigation
- Philippine Information Agency
- Philippine National Police - Aviation Security Group
- Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (formerly Philippine Tourism Authority)
Office of the President thru the Office of the Executive Secretary
To address the problem, the Task Force prepared the TFDC 3-year Action Plan composed of 19 doables and focused on the key areas of Prevention, Law Enforcement and Prosecution, and Coordination.
Since its creation, the TFDC has done several accomplishments which includes the conduct of international operations leading to the arrest of members of the ADS, seizure of millions-worth of dangerous drugs and rescue of Filipinas who were utilized as drug couriers. It also developed and distributed posters and IEC materials in strategic areas nationwide as part of the information dissemination and conducted lectures/seminars on the issue.
However, execution of some of the plans and programs has been hampered due to the large amounts needed to fund international operations. The Task Force is currently increasing its efforts by tapping key sectors and coordinating with different institutions to support the full implementation of said action plan.
HOW TO AVOID BEING A DRUG COURIER
- Avoid bringing other people's luggage/packages especially when you do not know what is contained inside. Do not trust anybody, even acquaintances, when you are traveling abroad. Big amount of money is not worth it.
- Be vigilant on people offering easy money and work abroad especially when you are unsure of the nature of the job.
- Check if your recruiter's/recruitment agency's papers and documents underwent the proper process.
WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO SEEK HELP WHEN RECRUITED AS DRUG COURIER
- In the country, victims can seek help and report illegal drug activities to authorities like PDEA, PNP or NBI
- For Filipinos abroad, they can go to the Philippine Embassy in the country where they are staying
CHALLENGES FACED BY THE GOVERNMENT AND HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
The underlying poverty crisis has lured Filipinos to take jobs with high salaries despite the harm/consequences that it may bring just to provide for themselves and their families. Because of this, drug trafficking syndicates target Filipinos, usually OFWs, as drug couriers in exchange for a huge amount of money, taking advantage of the situation.
Syndicates like the ADS are well-organized, well-funded and continue to expand. The drug courier problem’ global scope due to the syndicates’ vast connections and mobility makes it hard for law enforcement agencies to trace and apprehend members and cohorts.
In order to address this problem, concerned agencies and key sectors need to intensify its anti-drug courier campaign through the production of IEC materials, publicity/media plan development, and conduct of lectures/seminars. Filipinos need to be aware and at the same time take a proactive stance in sharing to others what they know about the issue.
Considering that other countries especially China and Saudi Arabia impose very strict punishments to persons with drug-related cases, information dissemination as a preventive measure is better than having to provide legal and financial support to already arrested drug couriers which in the end may prove futile once offender is proven guilty.
The government also needs to have an active and strong cooperation with foreign counterparts. Strengthening of bilateral, regional and multilateral coordination is crucial in the conduct international operations, profiling and development of a comprehensive database on syndicates, and monitoring of cases. Embassies and consulates should undertake tighter screening of visa applications of nationals who are known to be involved in drug smuggling activities and immigration officials should closely monitor track down activities of these aliens. This could only be achieved if concerned agencies have sufficient administrative and financial support.