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Manila plugs drug flow to HK, using convicted carriers

14 September 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

When tourist Ann Raian Cruz cleared security and Immigration unchallenged at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on the evening of July 30, 2016, she had no idea she was closing a dark and notorious chapter of the gateway’s history.

On arrival at Hong Kong International Airport a few hours later, she was arrested by Customs and Excise for bringing in some 700 grams of suspected cocaine.

Hong Kong has benefited from Philippine anti-drug measures based on information from mules convicted in HK.
But since then, the drug flow from Manila to Hong Kong has stopped, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said in a recent letter to the High Court. The letter was submitted by defense lawyers in hopes of reducing the sentences on three convicted Filipina drug mules arrested 10 months ahead of Cruz.

Cruz, a 38-year-old single mother and call center agent in Manila, was the first Filipina drug mule to slip out of NAIA barely a month since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, winning heavily on the back of an anti-drug campaign promise.

Her arrest showed that despite Duterte’s bloody anti-drug crackdown, international drug syndicates continued to use the country as a major transshipment center in Asia, apparently with help from crooked elements at NAIA.

But she appeared to be the last Filipino drug carrier to have passed through NAIA security unchallenged. Duterte’s bloody crackdown has apparently whipped airport security personnel into line.

However, two foreigners carrying drugs still managed to pa ss through NAIA just months after Cruz’s arrest. They were a Venezuelan woman and a Bolivian man who took circuitous routes to Hong Kong via various cities, with NAIA as the last stopover.

 The lawyers for Shirley Chua, Remelyn Roque and Ana Louella Creus secured the letter from PDEA through the Consulate, which in turn coursed the request through the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

In the PDEA letter, it was also said that information given by the three drug mules to ATN had led to the arrest of Nora Noora, the alleged mastermind of the fateful trip on Sept 25, 2015 that landed them in a Hong Kong jail.  A fourth defendant – Maricel Thomas – was acquitted at the end of the trial last Nov 14.

The lawyers told High Court Judge Aubrey Campbell-Moffat the information also led to the capture of Ugandan national Rufus Katumba, the alleged kingpin of the Nigerian drug syndicate in the Philippines, and his Filipino wife Marlyn Ramos in October 2015.

“Basically, we are appreciative of the fact that, through the information given by the three Filipinas, somehow naipadala natin sa Manila and the DFA coordinated with the PDEA, which led to the arrest of Katumba, na apparently ay Nigerian drug trafficking syndicate member or leader,” Consul Paulo Saret told The SUN when asked for a comment.

“Because of the information, I think binigyan naman ng credit ang three ladies dahil sa apprehension ni Katumba. Kasi narinig ko ang sinabi ng judge, ‘They led the authorities to Noora, it was Noora who led the authorities to Katumba’,” the consul said. 

Saret said it appears that the tip-off from Chua, Roque and Creus gave the Philippine authorities the initial impetus to arrest Katumba.

The arrests of Chua, Thomas, Roque and Creus brought to seven the number of Filipinas nabbed at HKIA in 2015 for drug trafficking. This was the biggest annual total recorded for Filipinos in data compiled by the Customs & Excise Department from January 2010 to November 2016.

On Feb 2, 2015, pregnant tourist Catherine Bustillo was arrested when 1.8 kilos of cocaine was found in secret compartments of her hand-carried baggage. She pleaded guilty to trafficking on Sept 25, 2015 and was sentenced on Dec 22 to a “lenient” 14 years and eight months in jail by High Court Justice Kevin Zervos.

Another Filipina tourist, Ma. Cristina D. Dia, was charged with drug trafficking for bringing into Hong Kong 1.3 kilos of suspected cocaine worth about $1.3 million on Sept. 5, 2015.

On July 15 of the same year, Susan Cumpio was intercepted while trying to bring in nearly 2 kilos of cocaine from Brazil. The Filipina had admitted bringing the drugs into Hong Kong as part of a deal to gain liberty from her Nigerian common-law husband in Sao Paulo. She was sentenced to 17 years in jail in May last year after pleading guilty to drug trafficking.

Cruz, the last of the Filipina drug mules to Hong Kong, was sentenced by a High Court judge to 12 years and three months in jail after she pleaded guilty on Apr 8.
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