Newsbrief: US and Philippines in Joint "Narcoterrorism" Exercises 9/10/04

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Beginning August 30, US and Filipino soldiers and drug enforcement agents embarked on a month-long training exercise designed to combat "narcoterrorism," the Philippine military reported in a press release. Training is taking place at Camp Bado Dangwa in La Trinidad, Benguet, the Philippine Military Academy, and the Public Safety College Regional Training School in Davao City.

About 100 members of the Philippine armed forces, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Philippine National Police will receive indoctrination from ten US "narcotics experts," the military said in its press release. It is unclear if the "experts" are members of the US DEA, but that agency has identified "narcoterrorism" as a threat in the Philippines.

In its "World Drug Report 2004," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks the Philippines as the third largest methamphetamine producer in Asia, after China and Burma, and the third largest marijuana producer, behind Thailand and Cambodia. The Filipino government is in the midst of a sustained drug war frenzy, complete with death squads, massive media coverage, and politicians outdoing themselves to be seen as "tough on drugs." (See our earlier coverage at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/236/vigilantes.shtml, and http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/241/philippines.shtml and http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/350/philippines.shtml.)

"The war on drugs is a fight for everyone and a better-trained police officer and agent only makes our communities safer against the intimidation and fears brought on by drugs," said the press statement. "Operation Baker Piston 04-2 is designed to enhance the inter-operability between the military, federal and civil agencies. It will improve their abilities to identify and preserve evidence, evacuate casualties, gather intelligence and instruct others to fight narcotics."

But it is unclear whether the lessons learned will be applied to the drug war or to the longstanding insurgencies against the Philippine government by the communist New People's Army, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Testimony by DEA assistant administrator for intelligence Steven Casteel before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year suggested the latter. While he could cite no hard intelligence to prove his contention, he told the committee that the New People's Army is "potentially involved" in growing and selling marijuana and that it has "greater potential" for making money in the trade because of its national reach. Casteel was only slightly more certain about the Moro fronts, saying that DEA intelligence "suggests" they could be involved in drug trafficking.

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