MANILA, December 27, 2003  (STAR) President Arroyo has made the campaign against drug trafficking a priority of her administration. But if she wants the campaign to succeed, she will have to look into the weak links in her law enforcement chain.

Some of these weak links are well known. Suspected drug dealers held without bail have walked out of the Philippine National Police headquarters or have been granted bail by judges under suspicious circumstances. Raids on the houses of suspected drug traffickers turn up negative, and the persistent suspicion is that the suspects were tipped off by cops themselves.

Last Dec. 13, a Chinese man believed to be the leader of the local unit of the 14-K drug triad or crime ring waltzed out of the Makati City jail. None of the guards posted at the jail’s six gates noticed Ding Cai Hui, a.k.a. Tony Lao, disappear from his cell. Ding had been detained since March 25, when he was arrested by police anti-narcotics agents on Leviste street in Makati. Police said he was caught with five kilos of shabu.

Ding had earlier sought hospital confinement for some ailment – a request government prosecutors opposed. The accused apparently found another way to leave detention. An investigation has been launched by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology amid reports that Ding escaped after paying P5 million.

Filipinos are no longer surprised by such stories. The public would have wanted to hear how Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi managed to walk out of his supposedly maximum security detention cell at PNP headquarters last July, but he was shot dead before he could tell his story. His escape prompted certain quarters abroad to describe the Philippines as the weakest link in the region’s war on terror.

The escape of suspected drug dealers is also one of the weak links in the government’s anti-drug campaign. It’s a waste of the efforts of law enforcers who do their job. And it naturally poses the risk that the escapees will soon return to their criminal activities. These jailbreaks have to stop. Congress can help by increasing the penalties for jail guards who allow those in their custody to escape. And Malacañang can do its part by making sure both the jail guards and their superior officers do not go unpunished.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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