DATE: March 25, 2022

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has observed a rise in the incidence of illegal drug trafficking activities using Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

With the technological boom encouraged by the global pandemic and a global demand for fast, virtual transactions, drug traffickers have turned to internet-based fund transfer services, online-booked courier services, and internet messaging applications to communicate with their cohorts and buyers.

Equally alarming to PDEA is the persistence of illicit market sites in the Darknet: online stores in that overlay network within the Internet that can only be accessed with anonymity proxy networks. A cursory sweep of darknet sites offering illegal substances and services revealed brisk business in illegal drugs such as Kush and Crystal methamphetamine/ methamphetamine hydrochloride, among others.

Cryptocurrencies – anonymous digital money based on blockchain technology, continue to fuel licit and illicit online markets. Pioneer cryptocurrency Bitcoin continues to be popular even with the advent of altcoins like Ethereum. As of November 2020, the Philippines plays host to at least 17 registered ventures that provide virtual currency exchange services.

Recognizing that the endpoint of all illegal drug transactions, whether in-person or online, is the delivery of the contraband, the PDEA marshalled the cooperation of E-commerce companies and courier services: A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed with courier service Lalamove Philippines Inc. and Lala App Philippines Inc in November 24, 2020. A similar agreement was forged with courier service J&T Express in December 2020; and another MOA was signed with Wallstreet Courier Services Incorporated-popularly known as Ninja Van in June 2020.

PDEA is looking at previous law enforcement models to aid strategy formulation against Darknet markets, such as Operation DisrupTor, which was run by the European police agency Europol and the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) in 2020, where 179 search warrants were served and more than 170 vendors and buyers of illicit goods on the dark web were arrested.

Similarly, PDEA had successfully intercepted 3,034 Tablets of 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), or Ecstasy, shipped from the Netherlands in January 2022, and 387.5 grams of shabu shipped from Cape Town, South Africa in 2021.

“Technology is both a boon and a bane,” said PDEA Director General Undersecretary Wilkins M. Villanueva during an interview with the media. “We benefit a lot from the cost savings, convenience and safety afforded by technologies such as online banking and voice calls via VoIP; but we must remember that criminals will take advantage of these technologies as well. It is not enough to keep pace with these drug trafficking groups; rather, we must be one or two steps ahead,” Villanueva added.

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