Narco-guerillas in the Philippines?

Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft of the US Joint Inter-Agency Task Force-West claimed evidence that secret laboratories for producing methamphetamine are operating in areas of the Phiilippines where Maoist and Islamic rebels have a strong presence, and that the guerillas are being funded by the trade. "That's one of our biggest concerns," Zukunft told Reuters during a break in meetings with Filipino counterparts at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). "It's much easier to stop them at the source than waiting for them to go into global distribution," said Zukunft, based at US Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.

Dionisio Santiago, a former military chief who now heads PDEA, backed up Zukunft's claims. "We have been able to reduce the supply of methamphetamine in Manila because of the series of drug busts in several clandestine laboratories in the capital since 2005," he told Reuters. "But, we've been getting reports new laboratories were being set up in remote areas in central Mindanao, near the hideouts of Muslim rebels."

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) controls the vast wetlands in central Mindanao, where other Islamic militant groups are also known to be sheltering. The small militant group Abu Sayyaf, known to have links with Jemaah Islamiah and al-Qaeda, is also said to be controlling the local drug traffic from its base on Jolo island.

Santiago said the shortage of methamphetamine supply has increased demand for marijuana, cultivated in the mountains in the northern Philippines, where the he charged the communist New People's Army (NPA) are operating and protecting huge marijuana plantations. "We still don't have estimates of how much money the NPAs get from marijuana growers in the mountain provinces," Santiago said, adding Philippine pot is now being exported to Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan. (Reuters, March 14)

See our last post on the Philippines.