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Lee orders intensified drive vs secret marijuana plantations

NEW Cordillera Police Regional Office director, Brigadier General Ronald O. Lee yesterday said he has ordered a stepped-up ‘search-and-destroy’ operation against all clandestine marijuana production sites in the region which remain as the top source of cannabis being smuggled to Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon.

“We are fully complying with the directive of Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, General Debold M. Sinas, to see to it that our summer offensive against marijuana cultivators and distributors in the entire Cordillera region will be without let-up,” said Lee.

“Thru this, we want to thwart efforts by drug syndicates to flood Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon region with cannabis which they see as a huge alternative to shabu. In fact, we have intercepted some suspects known to be smuggling an average of 40-50 kilos of marijuana bricks to Metro Manila this year,” the erstwhile director of the PNP Drug Enforcement Group who replaced Brig. Gen. R’win S. Pagkalinawan told the Journal Group.

The Cordillera police force is getting full support in its drive against secret marijuana plantation sites in the region from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) .

During the last week celebration of ‘Araw ng Kagitingan,’ Cordillera policemen, joined by operatives from the PDEA and the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) overrun nine clandestine cannabis plantations in Barangay Saclit in Sadanga, Mountain Province and in Buscalan, Kalinga, said Lee.

The official said officers led by Lieutenant Colonels Joseph Cayat and Edgar Tapo and Major Bernard Bone Navarra uprooted and destroyed an estimated 25,000 fully-grown marijuana plants and seedlings worth around P5 million.

Also burned by the government troops in the area were an estimated one kilo of marijuana stalks. Some samples were brought to the local crime laboratory for evidentiary purposes.

Lee said the prohibited crops were found being grown in an estimated 2,350 square meter land area.

The member of Philippine Military Academy ‘Tanglaw-Diwa’ Class of 1992 said he has ordered the police offices of Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province to intensify their war versus marijuana amid the interception of huge volume of marijuana being smuggled in the National Capital Region and Central Luzon (NCRPO) since last year.

Lee said checkpoints have been placed in strategic parts of the region and those passing thru Baguio City to intercept motor vehicles and people trying to transport marijuana to Metro Manila and its nearby provinces.

Last month, Cordillera policemen uprooted and destroyed an estimated P14 million worth of fully-grown cannabis plants and seedlings in Tabuk City, Kalinga.

That operation also resulted in the arrest of seven cannabis cultivators and couriers. All seven are now facing charges for violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Sinas said they have reasons to believe that some drug syndicates are trying to smuggle cannabis to Metro Manila hoping to replace shabu.

At present, marijuana remains the 2nd most abused drug in the country next to shabu. It cost around P5,000 a kilo in the underground market. Since the 70s, Cordillera has been known as a main source of marijuana in the country due to its cold climate.

Last month, Cordillera police and Army officers uprooted and burned on site some 36,000 worth of fully grown marijuana plants and seedlings valued at P7.2 million, all found being grown in a communal forest in Sitio Kinmayad in Barangay Kayapa, Bakun municipality.

Another operation in Sitio Bagiw in Bgy. Tacadang in Kibungan municipality also led to the destruction of nearly P700,000 worth of cannabis the following day.

Nearly two months ago, combined Cordillera PNP and PDEA operatives partnered to make one of the biggest marijuana seizures in the region following the arrest of four men found transporting 112 kilograms of dried cannabis worth P13.4 million.

PDEA chair, Director General Wilkins M. Villanueva identified the suspects as Wenceslao Galicia and Eduardo Patega, both residents of Makati City, Benedict Camia of Imus, Cavite and Augusto Galicia of Antipolo City.

The four were intercepted in Tabuk City in Kalinga by members of the local police and the PDEA while on board a Toyota Innova with plate no. NGF 5992. The vehicle was found to be carrying 112 compressed marijuana bricks when searched.

A few days later, police arrested a 17-year-old student from Tuguegarao City, Cagayan while transporting 450 grams of marijuana worth P54,000 in Liwan West, Rizal, Kalinga.

All suspects are now facing non-bailable drug charges.

The PNP chief said that their all-out offensive versus marijuana traffickers and cultivators in the country will be continuing as part of their effort to prevent the flow of the prohibited crop to Metro Manila and other urban centers specially this summer period.

Sinas has cited the Cordillera police and the PNP-DEG for their successive string of accomplishments in the anti-marijuana drive.

Tens of millions worth of fully grown marijuana plants and seedlings have been seized and burned by the Cordillera police since the start of the year. Last month, Cordillera policemen also arrested a 45-year-old resident of Taytay, Rizal for transporting 99 kilos of marijuana worth nearly P12 million in Bauko, Mountain Province.

Six members of a marijuana trafficking ring operating in Northern and Central Luzon were also arrested by PNP-DEG agents during a buy-bust in Concepcion, Tarlac which led to the recovery of 158 kilos of cannabis worth nearly P19 million.