MANILA (UPDATE) - The world's most powerful drug cartel is now making forays into Philippine territory with the discovery of a shabu storage facility in Lipa, Batangas holding nearly half a billion pesos worth of drugs, government authorities said Thursday.
"We have previously had reports that the Mexicans are here and... this is the first time we have confirmed that indeed, the Mexicans are already here," Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias, Philippine National Police - Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (PNP-AIDSOTF) chief, said in a press briefing.
On Wednesday, Christmas Day, joint elements of the PNP-AIDSOTF and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency seized P420 million worth of shabu during a raid at the LPL Ranch in Barangay Inosloban, Lipa.
The drugs, a total of 84 kilos of shabu in vacuum-sealed latex packs, were placed in 4 pieces of luggage.
Three suspected big-time drug traffickers, identified as Gary Tan, Argay Argenos and Rochelle Argenos, were arrested during the operation.
Tobias said that sometime in the last quarter of the year, the PNP-AIDSOTF received information that Tan was a big-time drug trafficker operating in Metro Manila and the nearby regions.
"Reports further disclosed Tan worked with a certain Jorge Torres, a Filipino American with a US passport. Both are accordingly affiliated with the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel," he said.
The Sinaloa Cartel is often described as the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere. A New York Times article said the cartel is responsible for the creation of underground tunnels that allowed the entry of drugs from Mexican border towns to the United States.
The cartel's main leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001. He is now America's most wanted drug trafficker, as well as being considered by Forbes as the most powerful criminal on the planet.
More than 77,000 people have been killed in Mexico in connection with organized crime since then-president Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide war against the cartels after taking office in 2006.
A new market for shabu
Philippine authorities are filing charges of violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act against Tan, the Argenos couple, Jorge Torres and two other Mexican nationals identified only as alias Jaime and alias Joey. The two Mexicans are believed to be part of the Siniloa Cartel.
PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima said police are still investigating how the cartel is moving the drugs into the country. He said anyone could easily travel from island to island in the southern Philippines.
He also said the cartel focused on shipping shabu because it is easier to sell in the Philippines.
"The market for methamphetamine hydrochloride pwede sila pumunta sa Pilipinas. Mura, madaling gawin, madaling i-sell. It's more feasible. If you sell cocaine in the Philippines, baka walang bibili. Mahal. It's like a business," he told reporters.
PDEA chief Arturo Cacdac Jr. said the Philippines is not the only country being eyed by the cartel. He said Japanese authorities have also discovered shipments of shabu supposedly coming from the cartel.
"They found Asia has a market for shabu," he said.
Purisima said the cartel is getting help from Chinese drug traffickers to establish operations in the Philippines.
"We can see that they are just starting. We need to take action so they cannot go further in," he said in Filipino.
He also noted that the police will consult its lawyers after the shabu storage facility was discovered on LPL Ranch, which is owned by the family of former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste. Leviste was tried and convicted of murdering his aide in 2007 but has since been granted parole.
Purisima said the compound used as a shabu storage facility was leased. With reports by Arnell Ozaeta, ABS-CBN News Southern Tagalog and Agence France-Presse