MANILA -- Philippine customs and anti-drug officers are investigating possible accomplices of a 26-year-old man who was arrested for sneaking in P35 million worth of shabu into the country through his luggage.
An agent of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) identified the "Golden Triangle" syndicate as the source of the 5-kilo shabu package which was intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 on Saturday.
The owner of the bag, Nazarene Obillo, boarded his flight in Siem Reap, Cambodia and arrived via a connecting flight from Hanoi, Vietnam.
The "Golden Triangle" is named after the area on the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand where the group produces narcotics.
"Cambodia is one of the sources considering the fact that it is very near the Golden Triangle. We don't have direct flights there so they cross the border to reach the Philippines," said Gerald Javier of the PDEA and a deputy commander of the NAIA-Inter-Agency Drug Interdiction Task Group, which handles drug cases in the airport.
The syndicate has also been tagged as the source of billion-peso shabu drug hauls discovered in the Philippines in early 2019, particularly in suburbs south of Manila.
Customs officials said Obillo left the bag at NAIA and sneaked away by asking permission to go to the restroom after his bag underwent x-ray inspection.
Inspectors became suspicious after x-ray images showed an unidentified mass inside instead of personal items, which Obillo said were the contents of the bag.
However, they initially thought the bag might have contained undeclared taxable items rather than drugs, said Marlon Agaceta, law division chief of the Bureau of Customs (BOC)-NAIA.
He said customs officials assumed Obillo would come back for his bag if it contained valuables.
But after Obillo did not return, PDEA agents joined the inspectors in opening the bag.
Two packets of what was confirmed at a lab to be high-grade shabu were hidden in a separate backpack and another compartment.
While noting how Obillo maintained composure in front of inspectors based on security footage, Agaceta said Obillo might have lacked experience as a drug courier based on his actions.
"We think at this stage he is not yet experienced. A usual courier would hide his identity. He would not stay long at the terminal and he would not put in his address," he said.
The address Obillo wrote in his customs declaration form led enforcers to Tarlac to arrest him.
The inter-agency anti-drug task group said enhanced equipment and tight coordination among agencies helped facilitate the arrest.
However, they said Obillo may have gotten away had authorities not acted soon.
Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, BOC-NAIA deputy collector for passenger services, said Obillo should have been kept on watch while his bag was being inspected.
"So we learned our lesson that next time, we would ask the assistance of ESS (BOC-Enforcement and Security Service) and CIIS (Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service), that once the bag was flag, they should already guard the suspected passenger," she said.
That, she added, included prohibiting them from going to the restroom until their luggage were cleared.