Drug syndicates going online, PDEA agent tells lawmakers
MANILA, Philippines—Online selling platforms and transport network services (TNVS) “are being exploited” by drug syndicates for their illegal trade, according to an official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Monday (Nov. 9).
“This pandemic may have caused these drug personalities to elevate and take advantage of online platforms,” said PDEA agent Aida Ferolino at a House hearing on the sale of drugs online.
Ferolino told lawmakers that the shift in drug transactions from face-to-face to digital means “is a huge challenge to PDEA and other law enforcement agencies.”
“We all know that drug syndicates would always do anything to succeed in their illegal drug activities and under the new normal,” she said.
Ferolino said even before the pandemic, arrests had been made already of drug traders “who facilitated drug transactions through online platforms or e-commerce platforms.”
The PDEA, she said, had conducted buy-bust operations that led to the arrests. The suspects posted drug paraphernalia on an e-commerce platform, which prompted the PDEA to conduct buy-bust missions, she said. She added that the PDEA had conducted three such missions.
Ferolino said online shopping platform Lazada had also turned over to them 3.6 kilos of marijuana.
“They also use TNVS to transport their illegal drug activities. We have arrested two drug personalities who use a transport service to deliver their packages,” she said.
Rep. Wes Gatchalian (Valenzuela City), chair of the House committee on trade and industry, said online platforms should “exercise due diligence with regards to its merchants.” These online traders, he said, should “not pass off the responsibility to law enforcement agencies to run after people who are behind these online illegal activities.”
Gatchalian said the PDEA confiscated last Sept. 18 these illegal items from online platforms—P12,000 in marijuana, 12 ecstasy tablets worth P40,000, a capsule of “Fly High” party drug worth P2,500 and 11 bottles of liquid ecstasy worth P426,000.
Citing information from arrested suspects obtained by the PDEA, Gatchalian said some drug paraphernalia, like water pipes and glass tooters, had been brought from the country’s two leading online shopping sites.
The PDEA, he said, had already requested the administrators of these shopping sites to take down all listings of drug paraphernalia.
At the hearing, Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said the department has received a total of 14,869 complaints involving online transactions from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2020.
Castelo said this was way higher than the 2,457 complaints that the DTI received in 2019.
The official said the complaints were related to violations of the Price Act, like overpricing, profiteering, or lack of price tag.
“Many people are being defrauded by false and deceiving advertisements, poor product quality and unconscionable sales acts and practices,” said Gatchalian in reaction to the DTI data.
“What is surprising is that a majority of these complaints came out of sales facilitated through these major platforms,” Gatchalian said.
He said “this is happening precisely because there are currently no regulations that will compel these platforms to ensure the safety of our consumers.”
“Right now, many platforms are self-regulating, but the problem is that when these self-regulations fail, the consumers have nowhere to turn to,” he said. “Many are oftentimes left hanging, or are put through such a long process that many of them just choose to abandon their claims,” he added.
The lawmaker renewed his call for the immediate passage of his House Bill No. 6122, which seeks to regulate the internet economy.
Under the bill, the platforms will be held liable for the wrongdoing of vendors on their platforms if no measure had been taken to prevent the sale of products that are illegal.
The measure has been approved by the House panel and is set to be passed on second reading.
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