Two Chinese nationals suspected of trafficking in drugs were killed in a shootout with Philippine law enforcement agents at the weekend, authorities said Monday.
Joint operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the military conducted a sting operation that led to a deadly exchange of gunfire on Sunday, according to the nation’s counter-narcotics chief, Aaron Aquino.
“The operation resulted in the recovery of, more or less, 274 kilos (604 pounds) of suspected shabu worth 1.9 billion pesos [U.S. $35 million] in street value,” he said, adding that the operation began with a tip from a “confidential informant.” “Shabu” is a local term for methamphetamines.
The drug haul was the biggest in recent months and came at a time when rights groups have raised grave concerns about President Rodrigo Duterte’s three-year-old war on illegal drugs. By police estimates, it has left more than 5,000 suspects dead, but rights groups place the figure as high as 20,000, with many cases going unreported.
The suspects, identified as Vincent Du Lim and Hong Li Wen, “were killed during the operation,” Aquino said, adding, “Definitely, they have Filipino accomplices.”
However, he declined to reveal more details about the case, citing an ongoing counter-narcotics operation.
Last year, Duterte came under criticism after officials from his government admitted that a huge shipment of methamphetamine, valued at about 6.2 billion pesos ($125 million), had passed through the customs bureau. He has since been quiet about the embarrassing development, drawing criticism from political foes that his drug war was a sham.
Citing intelligence reports, Aquino said that the two Chinese suspects allegedly were part of a criminal gang that smuggled in drugs by using ships to drop off the contraband as far away as the coast of Ilocos region, north of the nation's capital.
The drugs were picked up by passing boats, which then took the contraband to the coast of Cavite province, just south of Manila, he said.
The area was the gang’s staging ground for repacking the drugs because of its proximity to Metro Manila, where the shabu would be sold, Aquino said.