Why drug smugglers are shying away from South China Sea

I THINK there is only one reason why powerful international drug traffickers are utilizing the Philippines’ eastern seaboard in the Pacific Ocean instead of the South China Sea to smuggle huge volume of drugs specifically cocaine and shabu into the country and other countries like Australia.

It’s because the South China Sea is a disputed territory where powerful China and the United States as well as other Southeast Asian countries are laying claim to most of the strategic waterway have set up ‘listening posts’ and strong naval forces that could easily intercept a passing ship once it is suspected to be carrying a drug cargo. In short, all eyes are focused on the disputed sea unlike the Pacific Ocean.

Thus, ‘mother ships’ of powerful drug cartels won’t take the risk of using the South China Sea as an alternate route and instead concentrate on using the country’s eastern seaboard knowing that nobody is really watching them and that the Philippine Navy, Air Force and the Philippine National Police have no real capability to intercept them at the high seas.

Many security officials agreed with me on this and said that in reality, any foreign ship can be stopped by the mighty U.S. and China Navy and Coast Guards in the South China Sea once they are monitored by their state-of-the-art radar and satellite systems. There is also a chance that the modern Taiwan, Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese navies may also intercept ships carrying suspected drug cargoes in the event they spot them.

The recovery of 111 bricks of vacuum-packed cocaine worth nearly P706 million in the Philippines’ eastern seaboard since the year started again brings to fore the need for the Philippines to fully modernize and acquire more modern air and naval assets as well as modern technology needed to prevent intrusions in our  long unguarded territorial waters.

But how can our law enforcement agencies match up with modern ships or even submarines of international drug cartels if they have no aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, missile, torpedo and patrol boats that can be used to frighten anybody who dare sail on our territory?  

Add to it the lack of air assets such as fighter jets, reconnaissance and surveillance planes as well as combat and transport planes and helicopters needed when the situation calls for it. If the Armed Forces, the Philippine National Police and the Coast Guard are trying very hard to add more aircrafts, naval ships and gunboats to its armaments, more has to be done at present by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Customs.

Believe it or not but both the PDEA, the NBI and the BoC have no capability to respond to any drug interdiction situation in our seas since they have no planes, helicopters and water crafts. These agencies have to rely on the help of the armed forces in case they need to board ships suspected to be carrying drug contrabands in the high seas.

Presently, the PNP has its Maritime Group which is the primary unit responsible in law enforcement operations over Philippine territorial waters and rivers. However, lack of budget hampers the unit’s performance particularly in guarding our territorial waters.

Apart from relying on foreign aids specifically from the U.S. government, the Maritime Group is saddled by the fact that its insufficient fund is not enough to allow its patrol boats including those donated by the Americans to regularly conduct patrols. Thus, they are forced to rely on small ‘bancas’ provided them by local government units and other supporters.

Having no aerial capabilities, the Maritime Group has to rely on its boats. However, I have been told before that the U.S.-donated gunboats are ‘gas-guzzlers.’ Many officials told me  that for just an hour-long patrol, they have to consume around P30,000 worth of fuel.  That means one patrol boat would have to consume P240,000 worth of fuel just for an 8-hour sea patrol. That means nearly P7.2 million worth of fuel  for a single patrol boat every month. If we reduce the amount by 50 percent, that’s  around P3.5 million and so on and so forth. I’m making the calculations on the basis that every maritime patrol boat would really conduct  honest-to-goodness daily patrols. 

PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde was right when he said there is really a big need to beef up the police’s air and sea assets to help guard against intrusions by international drug smugglers, kidnappers, pirates, poachers and other criminal elements taking advantage of the country’s unguarded long sealanes and coastal areas.

As I have said, the PNP and the AFP with its Philippine Navy and Air Force and the Philippine Coast Guard have ships and patrol boats and planes and helicopters which however are not enough to guard the country’s vast irregular seawaters and coastal areas. Add to them the PDEA, the NBI and the BoC which are yet to acquire airplanes, helicopters and speedboats that could be used to monitor the presence of ‘mother ships’ carrying huge volume of drugs passing thru Philippine waters and intercept them at all.

Thus, the best that the country’s armed services can do when drug smugglers using powerful speedboats and high-tech ‘mother ships’ are already passing thru Philippine waters is to seek the help of foreign law enforcement agencies including the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration so that the drug smugglers could be apprehended if possible.

Gen. Albayalde however is not losing hope. He said that to help watch the country’s 36,000-kilometer-long coastlines against illegal intrusions, they have programmed more ‘floating and flying assets’ for the PNP Maritime Group and the PNP Aviation Security Group to boost police response against criminal activities in the country’s waters.

Apart from boosting police response international drug,  more air and maritime assets also means a more effective police response in disaster or emergency situations in the sea.       

According to Gen.  Albayalde,  they have allotted roughly P1.135 billion to procure more sea and air assets.

The PNP chief said that the PNP Bids and Awards Committee has approved the procurement of 28 units of high-speed tactical watercraft amounting to P336,000,000. So far, seven of the units have been delivered to the PNP and are already being used by the police.

Another 18 more units of similar high-speed tactical watercraft are programmed under the 2019 procurement program as additional equipment for maritime operations, police visibility in the shorelines, and maritime law enforcement and public safety operations.

At present, the PNP fleet of watercraft includes 107 police rubber boats, 19 coastal craft, 25 fast boats, four speed boats, and 10 gun boats or dauntless boats being used by 17 Regional Maritime Units, three  Maritime Special Operations Units, and other police maritime stations nationwide.

In support of seaborne maritime patrol operations, the PNP is also adding five more single engine turbine and training helicopters with the total price of P798,388,799.98 to its fleet that is expected to be delivered this coming August to help bolster anti-terror operations and air support to maritime patrol operations in high seas. I hope that this could put a big dent on the smuggling of drugs and other contrabands as well as kidnappings in the high seas.