Fire of undetermined origin gutted a warehouse in Mandaue City yesterday, destroying half of what used to be the largest shabu factory in Asia.
The warehouse, owned by the Ng family, was not totally burned due to the quick response of firefighters, who put out the blaze 20 minutes after it was reported in the early hours of Saturday, said fire investigator Cyprian Codilla.
The warehouse in barangay Umapad had been closed down and was being preserved as evidence in a court case after the place, which turned out to be a ?mega shabu laboratory,? was raided by Manila-based anti-narcotics agents in 2004.
Codilla said the fire broke out at 12:03 a.m. at the left side of the warehouse.
Randy Pedroso, director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Central Visayas, has asked the Mandaue City fire department to determine the cause of the fire.
The warehouse was supposed to have been secured by the police as part of evidence in the still unresolved case, he said.
Six years after the shabu laboratory was discovered, no Cebu mastermind or drug bosses have been identified or charged.
Two months after the 2004 raid, Calvin Tan, a Chinese national, who was identified as the alleged financier of the drug laboratory, was arrested in Hong Kong and extradited to the Philippines to face trial.
All 11 accused, including Tan, are now detained at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).
Senior Supt. Noel Gillamac, the director of the Mandaue City Police Office, and Pedroso said policemen were assigned to guard the warehouse but they were pulled out in 2008 after the presentation of evidence in court. At the time of the fire, there was no guard assigned to secure the warehouse.
Lawyer Clarence Paul Oaminal, former undersecretary of the Dangerous Drugs Board, however, said the fire would have no effect on the court cases.
Oaminal was the legal counsel of the PDEA regional office and was involved in the prosecution of the case before he was appointed to the Dangerous Drugs Board in 2008.
He said only the hydrogenator was left inside the warehouse but the machine, which is used to "cook" shabu, was not damaged by the fire because it was made of metal. The hydrogenator is an important piece of evidence as it would confirm that shabu used to be manufactured in the warehouse, he said.
The rest of the evidence is kept at the Philippine National Police crime laboratory. Part of the shabu seized during the 2004 raid has been destroyed, said Oaminal.
"We already presented the evidence and testimonies of our witnesses in court," said Oaminal.
Oaminal dismissed speculations that the warehouse was intentionally burned, saying that all important evidence was preserved.
Former DDB chair Vicente Sotto III was surprised to learn of the fire.
Sotto, who once attended the hearing against the suspects, said the trial was almost over.
During the raid on Sept. 24, 2004, 11 persons, including nine Chinese nationals, were arrested They were identified as Siew Kin Weng, 25, Liew Kam Song, 40, Joseph Yu, 41, Hung Chin Chang, 40, Lin Li Ku, 35, Bao Xiafu, 35, Wu Tiao Yi, 33, Tao Fei, 34, Liu Bo, 31; and Filipinos Allan Yap Garcia, 33, and Joseph Lopez, 33.
The 11 men are still facing trial on charges of violating Republic Act 9165, also known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Seized during the raid were 675 kilograms of high-grade shabu worth P1.3 billion. Chemicals enough to make 15 tons more of the illegal substance were also seized, prompting authorities to believe the shabu laboratory was among the biggest in Asia.
The PDEA intentionally did not inform the Cebu police about the planned raid to avoid a leak.
The mega shabu laboratory was housed in the 'Caps R Us Inc.' warehouse along a national highway.
Since it was a few blocks from the houses of then Mandaue City Mayor Thadeo Ouano and Umapad barangay captain Zaldy Lumapas, questions arose about whether officials knew of the clandestine shop.
Both denied any prior knowledge of the warehouse. Ouano was summoned to appear before a Congressional House committee investigating the scandal.
The campaign against illegal drugs must continue, said Lapu-Lapu City businessman and mayoralty candidate Efrain Pelaez, who was active in the campaign against narcopolitics.
Pelaez said he was alarmed by the proliferation of illegal drugs which he said has not been stopped by the government and the police.
?We are fighting the same battle in Lapu-Lapu City. Narcopolitics has a part to play in this elections. If you have a good mayor and a police force, this (distribution of illegal drugs) should be stopped,? Pelaez said.
He said most crimes could be attributed to the use of illegal drugs.
?Illegal drugs in Lapu-Lapu have been scattered around but nothing has happened,? he said.by Chito O. Aragon and ADOR VINCENT MAYOL