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On why we are losing the war on drugs

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok July 11,2016 - 11:22 PM

He is retired from politics since 2012 but former Cebu City congressman Antonio “Tony” Cuenco appears to be back in harness, this time sharing insights on the conduct and outcome of the 2001 congressional hearing as it now impacts on the relentless and brutal anti-drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.

To recall, after the President and Commander in Chief named five generals as protectors of big-time drug cartels, he disclosed the identities of the country’s top drug lords, namely, Wu Tuan also known as Peter Co and Peter Lim also known as Jaguar.

The moment President Digong tagged Peter Lim, the local media immediately trained their sights on Tony Cuenco because reporters remember him as the gutsy chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs who probed the drug situation in Central Visayas twice, in 1997 and 2001.

As a news reporter who actively covered the 2001 congressional investigation, I recall that many people snickered and dismissed the House move as “in aid of reelection.”

I did have my own doubts because Cebu had been in the radar of legislative investigations involving drug scandals as early as 1993, but nothing came out of it.

In 1993, the Senate summoned a Cebuano businessman named Rafael Madraso, allegedly a drug dealer with links to local and Mindanao-based drug cartels. The Senate probe did not yield any significant findings, but Madraso surfaced again in 1999 when he was arrested in a joint police operation after selling two kilos of shabu to an undercover policeman in a KTV bar in Parañaque City.

The arrest of Madraso would have been quickly forgotten except for accusations leveled by the arresting agents against then PNP chief Roberto Lastimoso and Police Intelligence Group head Robert Delfin of intervening in the case leading to the release of Madraso.
The 1999 controversy ended with Lastimoso stepping down from office, paving the way for then president Joseph Estrada to appoint his own trusted man, Panfilo Lacson, as PNP chief.

Fast forward to 2001.

The legislative hearings conducted by the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs led by then chairman Tony Cuenco immediately became controversial because Cuenco had already done this four years earlier. In 1997, he made headlines after he exposed the drug dragons of Central Visayas in a privilege speech. The 1997 dossier provided by then regional anti-narcotics chief Jose Dayco triggered a House probe into 240 alleged drug lords that included Chinese businessmen Peter and Wellington Lim, but nothing came out of the exposé because the police info was supposedly raw or unverified.

In 1998, the national police came up with an updated dossier containing the identities of 50 drug groups in the region, but what made the list interesting is that it contained only Bisdak-sounding names. The names of the Lim brothers were no longer in the order of battle.

That would have been the end of Tony’s efforts to untangle the drug issue except that in 2001, Ananias Dy and Bernard Liu, two former employees of the Lim brothers, offered to become state witnesses and uncover information about the drug dealings of their former employers.

Ananias Dy testified that sometime in 1991, Peter Lim ordered him to facilitate the shipment of a cargo van allegedly containing 48 kilos of shabu. The shipper, said to be a partner of Lim in the illegal drug trade, is Ben Go, a Taiwanese who set up a business in Mandaue City under the company name BNH.

Dy said the contraband was shipped on board the MV Sugbu, an information corroborated by a vessel supervisor. This led to the seizure of the contraband in Manila by the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau. Some quarters suspected that it was the ship supervisor who tipped authorities about the illegal shipment. A criminal case was subsequently filed in Manila against Ben Go, but he eluded arrest after fleeing the country.

For his part, Bernard Liu told the House panel that he was privy to the drug business of the Lim brothers because he went thrice with them to Hong Kong between 1989 and 1996 to get shabu from a certain David Kam. Liu testified that in each of those trips they would bring 10 kilos of shabu and hide them inside golf clubs which Peter Lim bought in Hong Kong.

Despite the gravity of the testimonies, the House panel didn’t get the cooperation of police agencies like the NBI and the Regional Anti-Narcotics Office. The head of RANO then was Vic Loot, now retired police general and mayor of Daanbantayan, who had been tagged by President Duterte as a coddler of drug lords.

Ananias Dy and Bernard Liu had since died in tragic circumstances similar to those who break the code of silence or omertà, scenes that we see only in movies about the Mafia.

Although the hearings didn’t yield significant results in terms of producing prima facie evidence but looking back, I can say they gave the public a clear idea why we are losing the war on drugs. And if this national problem has grown into a monstrous malaise that is now tearing the moral fiber of our society, we can only blame corrupt government officials who are in the payroll of drug syndicates, including elected officials who use their power to further the ends of the evil empire. We can also blame ourselves for failing to sustain the efforts of legislators like Tony Cuenco in bringing to light the illegal narcotics trade.

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TAGS: drug addicts, drug pushers, illegal drugs, Peter Co, Peter Lim, President Rodrigo Duterte, prohibited drugs

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