Philippines boosts narcotics surveillance ahead of full reopening

Special Philippines boosts narcotics surveillance ahead of full reopening
Passengers wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) exit a Metro Rail Transit (MRT) station in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 29, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 March 2022

Philippines boosts narcotics surveillance ahead of full reopening

Philippines boosts narcotics surveillance ahead of full reopening
  • Nation will on Friday reopen to fully vaccinated visitors from all countries
  • Filipino government recently renewed crackdown on illegal drugs

MANILA: The Philippines is to step up the monitoring of illegal drugs at tourist destinations, authorities said on Wednesday, as the southeast Asian nation gears up to fully reopen to foreign visitors from April 1.

The Philippines opened its borders on Feb. 10 to vaccinated, COVID-19-negative foreign tourists from countries whose nationals did not require a visa, after nearly two years of coronavirus pandemic border closures. From Friday, it will allow entry to visitors from all countries.

As authorities expect a boom in arrivals at holiday destinations, tourism officials have signed an agreement with law enforcement agencies on joint clearing operations and efforts to prevent the trafficking of narcotics.

“As Philippine tourism moves toward its much-anticipated recovery, the Department of Tourism joined hands with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police to beef up security in tourist destinations across the country,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the Tourism Operation Protection Against Illegal Drugs initiative, law enforcers will be deployed to special centers in key resorts.

“We welcome this latest collaboration with our country’s police force and drug enforcement agency in an aim to provide greater deterrence and protection against the illicit trafficking of dangerous drugs in tourist destinations,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

PDEA Director General Wilkins M. Villanueva warned earlier this month that tourist destinations had traditionally been targeted by drug trafficking groups that saw a market among “foreign travelers with expendable funds for leisure.”

“We want to promote the Philippines as a tourism destination,” he said, adding that the aim was to bring in much-needed revenue to local communities.

“But we want to make it clear that recreational drug-tourism has no place in the Philippines.”

The Philippine government recently renewed its crackdown on illegal drugs. In March alone, law enforcers have seized narcotics worth more than $30 million, mainly methamphetamine, locally known as shabu — a potent stimulant that is mainly used as a recreational drug. 

The crackdown on illegal drugs comes as Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been carrying out a controversial and deadly “war on drugs” campaign since 2016, will complete his term in June.

One of Duterte’s main electoral promises was to eradicate illegal drugs from the country within months of taking office.