By Perry Diaz
With the renewed relationship that’s growing between President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, there is a lot of goodwill that has been going on between the two countries. And with the forthcoming state visit of Xi to the Philippines, a lot of bilateral activities are happening to ensure that the first state visit of a Chinese leader since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would be successful.
In Duterte’s letter to Xi extending his greetings on China’s 69th founding anniversary, he told Xi that their recent interactions have “borne much fruit.” “I look forward to welcoming you in Manila soon and to discuss the path forward our countries and peoples to sustain our bonds and make it more meaningful,” Duterte said.
But all is not as rosy as the two leaders appear to be in their exchanges. Underneath the serene diplomatic discourse, there are undercurrents that both sides tried so much to evade so as not to cause friction between the two countries. There are two major issues that could disrupt their relationship: territorial dispute on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and illegal drugs.
The WPS dispute has led to a diplomatic standoff, which for now has avoided an outbreak of hostility that could lead to open conflict between the two countries. With that in mind, neither country would bring their territorial dispute out in the open. To do so could have dire geopolitical consequences that would draw the superpowers into the fray.
Pandemic drug situation
The problem of illegal drugs is a different animal. Duterte made a promise during the presidential campaign in 2016 to get rid of corruption, drugs, and criminality in the country within three to six months. Two years later, the corruption, drugs, and criminality are still the major problems in the country.
In a recent speech in Malacañang, Duterte said, “I told you that I will go after drugs and I warned everybody because… what used to be millions of transactions worth, it’s now billions.” Evidently, Duterte’s “War on Drugs” – by his own admission — is a total failure.
Who are the players?
The illegal drug operation involves various players, to wit: Foreign drug manufacturers, smugglers, corrupt government officials, shabu laboratories, drug lords, corrupt Customs officials, corrupt PDEA officials, corrupt police officers, drug pushers, and drug users. It’s a hierarchy where all the players play a part in the distribution network that has turned the Philippines into a country of drug-induced zombies. It’s destroying the country!
It’s no wonder then that Duterte had given up. But how did it get to a point that within two years, the illegal drug trade has taken a quantum leap in spite of Duterte’s crusade against illegal drug? Definitely, something is wrong with the picture.
With the government’s emphasis on eliminating the drug users – more than 4,000 have been killed to date – it is a mathematical impossibility to stop the illegal drug trade.
Duterte, after three months into his presidency, was shocked when he realized that there were more than four million illegal drug pushers and users! Simply put, it’s virtually impossible to stop the illegal drug trade without exercising extreme measures.
In my humble opinion, I believe that you cannot eradicate the drug problem by killing the victims – the drug users. The drug problem started at the top of the food chain – the foreign drug manufacturers that are based in China. The Philippines has become the major distribution hub because of the corruption in every level of the government structure.
Corrupt government and local officials protect the smugglers, shabu laboratories, and drug lords, who in turn bribe the corrupt Customs, PDEA, and police officers.
The question is: How could Duterte stop or prevent the Chinese drug manufacturers from distributing their illegal products from entering the Philippines? With the way Duterte’s “War on Drugs” is being waged, the government is losing. But here’s the rub: Since Duterte doesn’t have the power to stop the drug trade from China, he should then focus in going after the smugglers who are the primary conduit between the Chinese manufacturers and the distribution chain. If he stops drug smuggling, then the war on drugs is half won.
The other half is how can he influence and convince China’s leadership to stop the flow of the illegal drugs into the Philippines? And this is where Duterte could use his friendship with Xi. But can Xi do it? Or, would he do it?
This author believes that Xi can’t and wouldn’t do it. First, he can’t do it because the main ingredients – precursor chemicals — to produce methamphetamine or shabu are legally manufactured in China. China is a major source of precursor chemicals necessary for the production of cocaine, heroin, crystal methamphetamine, which are used by many Southeast Asian and Pacific Rim nations. China produces over 100,000 metric tons of acetic anhydride each year. [Source: Wikipedia]
Secondly, Xi wouldn’t do it because it’s a major legal drug manufacturing industry in China, which is controlled by the powerful Chinese Communist officials and the influential CEO’s of China’s drug manufacturing industry.
There are two ways to manufacture shabu: One is to smuggle ready-to-use shabu and the second is to smuggle precursor chemicals in lesser quantity that can then be “cooked” with other locally and legally available chemicals – e.g., hydrochloric acid, battery acid — in secret shabu laboratories, protected by corrupt government, local, police officials. But it is hard to find the locations of these secret labs because the operators have the ability to relocate them easily or build new labs if they’re exposed. Besides, corrupt local officials are easily bribed to keep their mouths shut.
It is interesting to note that a recent news report has linked Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua to business tycoon Michael Yang, who is suspected of being a drug dealer. The report became an international cause célèbre. Imagine, a top Chinese diplomat involved in the drug trade?
It all began when Duterte had “declassified” a PDEA dossier linking a group of former policemen and government officials to a Davao-based businessman allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade. Could that be Michael Yang?
But in a recent speech, Duterte cleared Yang, saying that Yang, who is the owner of the Davao City Los Amigos (DCLA) stores in Mindanao, cannot be involved in the illegal drug trade, citing his ties to Zhao. “They said Michael Yang is a drug addict. The Chinese ambassador sleeps in his house, he’s even part of the entourage of the Chinese Premier,” Duterte reportedly said. But what that proves is that Yang is connected to high Chinese officials, which makes one wonder: Would his Chinese connection extend all the way to the Philippines’ officialdom? Is Yang untouchable?
With the influence that Zhao had with China’s powers-that-be, perhaps he can convince them to crack down on the importation of shabu or precursor chemicals to the Philippines.
With Xi scheduled to visit the Philippines in the coming months, it would be nice if he’d bring with him a commitment to shackle the shabu manufacturers. It would certainly curb the deadly drug trade with China.
At the end of the day, one has to remember that the deadly drug with China follows the rule of supply and demand: Decrease the supply and the demand would eventually decrease, too. Conversely, increase the supply and you create more demand.