Philippine drug enforcement agents said Wednesday they had arrested four suspected narcotics traffickers from China and seized a huge cache of crystal meth with a street value of 1.1 billion pesos (U.S. $20.3 million).
The illegal stash, comprising more than 163 kilos, (353 pounds), was stuffed inside tins of Chinese biscuits that had also been used as packaging for drugs in other Southeast Asian countries, according to the Philippine counter-narcotics chief. The drugs likely came from the geographical area in Asia called the “Golden Triangle,” which includes parts of northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, he said.
“Based on the packaging, these drugs came from the Golden Triangle of drug syndicates,” said Aaron Aquino, chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
“This is the same packaging seized by other nations such as Thailand and Vietnam.”
Three Chinese nationals were picked up during a sting operation outside a mall south of Manila late Tuesday afternoon, Aquino said. The suspects were identified as Kei-Kei Go, 40; Emmanuel Pascual, 79; and Kian-Kok Chua, 43.
A second raid was carried out an hour later inside the exclusive Ayala Alabang Village near the mall. It led to the arrest of 19-year-old Wu Yi (also known as Li Zhaoyang), Aquino said.
The suspects in custody were being interrogated to determine other details of the criminal operation, Aquino said.
“The house is actually used for storing drugs. This is not being used for living or sleeping. We found a small store, but it is not permitted inside the subdivision.... You'd think that things were being sold, but they’re actually shabu,” Aquino said, referring to another name for crystal methamphetamine.
“The PDEA is now more focused on high-end subdivisions, clubs, hotels, warehouses. That is our focus now,” he added.
The drug haul was the biggest in recent months, and came at a time when the Philippine government has had to defend President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which he launched when he took office in 2016.
Police estimate that more than 5,000 suspected drug pushers and addicts have been killed in legitimate counter-narcotics operations, but rights groups have said that the figure could be four times as high.
Rights groups have said that the continuing entry of large amounts of drugs into the country proves that Duterte’s war has not helped in stopping the crime. In fact, officials in his government admitted that a huge shipment of meth, worth some 6.2 billion pesos (125 million dollars), had passed through the customs bureau.
Philippine Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, expressed surprise at the size of the haul considering that strict protocols had been put in place when Duterte became president to stop imports of illegal drugs.
“How the hell did that volume pass through Customs and the police check points?” And the Chinese nationals? WTF!,” the senator said in comments posted on Twitter.
Last month, two Chinese nationals were killed in a shootout with Philippine drug enforcement agents in a suburban area just south of Manila. That operation led to the recovery of some 274 kilos (604 pounds) of meth valued at some 1.9 billion pesos.
It was not clear, however, if the two incidents were connected or if those Chinese nationals were part of the same criminal syndicate.