What Went Before: Lipa raid confirms Mexican drug cartel presence in PH
MANILA, Philippines—On Christmas Day last year, a police raid on a cock farm in Lipa City, Batangas province, confirmed the presence in the Philippines of the notorious Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel. The most significant antinarcotics operation in 2013, the raid on LPL Ranch in Inosluban village resulted in the seizure of 84 kilos of “shabu,” worth P420 million.
Arrested were a Chinese-Filipino identified as Gary Tan and Filipinos Argay and Rochelle Argenos, who were allegedly storing drugs for the Sinaloa cartel on the farm.
On Dec. 26, police brought illegal drug and weapons charges against the three.
State prosecutors at the Department of Justice are still trying to establish who owns LPL Ranch.
Former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste has denied owning the ranch. His lawyer, Cristina Buendia, said the so-called ranch was a 100-hectare subdivision divided into 1-ha parcels that had been sold to private buyers, mostly devoted to game fowl breeding.
Buendia said Leviste, who was recently granted parole after serving four years of a sentence for the murder of his longtime aide, “does not own any parcel, nor have any interest or anything whatsoever to do” with the ranch.
But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that if it was proven that Leviste knew that his property was being used by the drug syndicate, he may have to face charges. That could also be a ground for the withdrawal of his parole, she said.
Early police reports said drugs were stored in a property on the farm leased by a cock-fighting aficionado, identified as Filipino-American Jorge Torres. He was later tagged as the Sinaloa cartel’s Philippine conduit.
Last Dec. 27, the Philippine National Police started coordinating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to locate Torres, who reportedly left for the United States in the second week of December. But Torres’ whereabouts in the United States have yet to be established.
Last Dec. 29, the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF) carried out a follow-up operation against the Sinaloa drug syndicate. But the AIDSOTF spokesman, Chief Insp. Roque Merdegia, said the operation yielded nothing.
The PNP has also sought help from the Bureau of Immigration to track down Mexican nationals allegedly working for the Sinaloa cartel who could still be in the country, according to Merdegia.
He said agents had been dispatched to several places to hunt the foreigners. He declined to divulge the identities of the Mexicans, as the operations were ongoing. Two were identified only by their aliases, Jaime and Joey.
In separate interviews, Merdegia and a military source told the Inquirer that the Sinaloa drug cartel was not “well-entrenched” in the Philippines and was just among several foreign drug gangs that were trying to penetrate the local drug market.
The Sinaloa cartel, believed to be operating in 50 countries, is reputed to be the largest source of illegal drugs going to the United States. It is headed by Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin (“El Chapo” or “Shorty”) Guzman, who has been on the run with a $5-million reward on his head since he escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001.
Members of the cartel are also reported to be involved in kidnapping, bribery and gun-for-hire operations.—Inquirer Research
Source: Inquirer archives
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.