Drug groups tap persons with HIV as couriers

Drug groups tap persons with HIV as couriers
Drug syndicates think that tapping an HIV-positive foreign courier will result in repatriation to the country of origin rather than arrest


Part 1: Drug syndicates use social media for recruitment


MANILA, Philippines – With the intensified campaign against the entry of illegal drugs, and the use of Filipinos as couriers, drug syndicates are also becoming more creative in carrying out their illegal activities.

From repackaging the illegal drugs in coffee, tea and chocolate sachets to conceal the contraband, to using different transit points to distribute the drugs, the syndicates – in particular, the African drug network – also have resorted to using female couriers who are HIV positive, data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed.

For instance, in 2012, out of the 14 females arrested with links to the African drug syndicate, 3 were found to be positive with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. One arrested drug courier had elephantiasis, a disease characterized by the massive swelling of body parts.

The use of drug couriers who are HIV positive appears to be a strategic ploy, in anticipation of a bungled drug smuggling attempt.

“This may be done on purpose, so that if arrested, these couriers will not be detained and instead be repatriated back to their country so as not to infect other detainees,” the PDEA said. (From a medical viewpoint, however, HIV is not a  highly communicable disease. HIV is transmitted through blood and the exchange of body fluids).

Compartmentalized operation

Getting to the core of the syndicate is the tricky part, since the drug operations are compartmentalized.

Often, there is more than one courier involved in one transaction. “One courier is tasked to pick up the drug in a specific point,” with the second one tasked to bring the illegal drugs to its final point of destination, PDEA said.

The strategy is simple enough. Compartmentalizing the drug smuggling allows the illegal operation to proceed in the event that one of the drug couriers gets caught.

In the case of Mary Jane Veloso, who has been sentenced to death by an Indonesian court for drug trafficking, the first courier appears to be her recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, while Veloso was tapped as the second courier.

PDEA spokesman director Derrick Arnold Carreon said the circumstances of Veloso’s recruitment appear to be the handiwork of the African drug syndicate. These African syndicates operate on “small-scale smuggling” where the drugs involve 2-3 kilos. “Large-scale smuggling involve other syndicates,” he said.

Among the top 3 illegal drugs, shabu or methamphetamine, still tops cocaine and heroin, as the choice of drug contraband being smuggled into the country. From 2010 to to 2013, shabu comprised 82% of the drugs seized from drug couriers. Cocaine represented 17%, while heroin comprisd only 1%.

The continuing high-demand for shabu locally may indicate that the syndicates “have established a network, collaboration and alliance with local drug groups,” PDEA said in its assessment.

While shabu remains the illegal drug of choice for Filipinos, there is also a likelihood that some are being smuggled again out the country to Japan and Australia as final market points. Carreon said that in Japan, a gram of shabu could easily fetch around $700.

In 2012,  28 persons with links to the African drug syndicate were arrested by PDEA’s Task Force Drug Couriers (TFDC). Of this number, 5 were Malaysians, 4 were Filipinos and 3 were Indonesians. In 2013, the number of arrested drug couriers went down to 17, with 9 of them being Nigerians.


In February 2010, alarmed by the increasing number of Filipinos caught abroad as drug couriers, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Administrative Order 279 creating TFDC, which consists of several government agencies.

The initial budget was supposed to be taken from the contingency fund of the Office of the President (OP). Succeeding budgetary requirements were supposed to be included in the OP’s regular budget.

Ironically, a few months later, in April 2010, Veloso was arrested by Indonesian authorities for attempted drug smuggling.

Carreon said the TFDC, despite best efforts, is operating on a handicap against the well-established and well-oiled drug syndicates. Lack of sufficient funding is a common complaint. “We are up against a multi-billion dollar industry. It is not whining about it, but [we’re] doing our best.”

Data showed that from 2010 to 2015, PDEA’s annual budget barely breached the P1-billion mark.

A check with the annual appropriations for the OP did not show any specific budget for the operations of the TFDC. However, the closest budget item that could refer to TFDC funding could fall under the Presidential Anti-Organized/Syndicated Crime and Transnational Crime Campaign.

In its lists of recommendations to improve the campaign against dangerous drugs, PDEA said there is a need for follow-up operations after arrests “to ensure the continuity of work and greater possibility to track down members of international syndicates “to send a message that we are serious in combatting illegal activities…and to deter future actions of drug syndicates.”

But such efforts should be backed up by sufficient funds, PDEA said. One area of improvement is the funding provisions in AO 279 creating TFDC, PDEA emphasized. Otherwise, efforts will be all bluster with no bite. – Rappler.com

Dirty hand holding a bag of cocaine image via Shutterstock 

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