Duterte absolves China, blames Taiwan 'triad' for drugs

MANILA, Philippines – Saying a Taiwanese triad has "taken over the operations" of the Chinese, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte blamed China's rival, Taiwan, for being the new source of illegal drugs in the Philippines.

In two speeches on Tuesday evening, September 26, Duterte scored the "Bamboo triad" in Taiwan for the illegal drug trade in the Southeast Asian country.

"The Philippines today is a client state of the Bamboo triad," Duterte said at the 56th anniversary of the Philippine Constitution Association on Tuesday.

Referring to the Bamboo triad, he added, "They have taken over the operations of, sad to say, the Chinese, but I do not mean the country and the people, in a sense that most of them are really into this kind of business."

"The Philippines is a transshipment of shabu to America, and it behooves upon America to work closely with the Republic of the Philippines especially on this serious matter," the President also said.

Duterte's statements on Tuesday departed from his words in July 2016, when he said he had "grievances" against the Chinese because of their involvement in the illegal drug trade. 

The President changing the narrative – now shifting the blame to Taiwan – is interesting because of two things. 

First, Taiwan has long competed for power with China, which is Duterte's newfound ally. Taiwan views mainland China as illegitimate, while mainland China considers Taiwan as a renegade government.

Duterte made his remarks on Taiwan as China is blamed for the smuggling of P6.4 billion ($126 million) worth of shabu into the Philippines. 

Second, the President's statements on the Taiwanese triad come after his son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, was linked by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV to a Chinese triad. 

'I cannot blame the Chinese government'

On Tuesday, the President also mentioned the Hong Kong-based 14K triad, but Taiwan was the territory that he singled out. He also gave more prominence to the Bamboo triad based in Taiwan. 

"Itong drugs ngayon, it's been operated by the 14K, Bamboo triad. They have taken over. They are cooking the shabu on the high seas, tapos itatapon. Kita mo sa Region I, maraming mga bins na empty, may Chinese character. It's actually Taiwan and lahat na," Duterte said at the 120th anniversary of the Department of Justice also on Tuesday evening.

(The illegal drug trade has been operated by the 14K, Bamboo triad. They have taken over. They are cooking the shabu on the high seas, then they would throw it away. You could see it in Region I, the empty bins with Chinese characters. It's actually from Taiwan and everywhere else.)

"And I cannot blame the Chinese government or the people because we were doing it here before," he said. 

Duterte pointed out that the Bamboo and 14K triads "have taken over" all drug operations in Southeast Asia. Those who cook shabu, he said, "are only given a franchise for distribution." 

The United Bamboo triad "is one of the world's largest organized crime groups with its hands in all kinds of illegal activities," the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported in 2015

"The infamy of the 10,000-strong triad in drug and human trafficking is known internationally; in 2008, it was ranked by the US magazine, Foreign Policy, as one of the world's most dangerous gangs," the SCMP added.

The other name that Duterte mentioned – 14K – is a triad gang based in Hong Kong, the same news outlet earlier reported– Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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