MANILA, September 13, 2003  (STAR)  By Mike Frialde  - Money from the illegal drug trade might have been used to fund the "destabilization plots" against President Arroyo.

Director General Anselmo Avenido of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said he has ordered his intelligence agents to investigate the reported link between drug syndicates and "destabilization" plotters.

"We have received reports that drug money had been used in the demolition job against some government officials," he said.

"We are now seriously looking into this. At the moment, we don’t have enough yet to support the filing of charges."

Avenido declined to elaborate on the information they are supposed to have received.

The PDEA’s policy is to keep intelligence information under wraps until there is enough evidence to support the filing of charges, he added.

Avenido also refused to comment on the possible involvement of Sen. Panfilo Lacson in the "destabilization plots" against the Arroyo administration.

However, in an interview yesterday at Camp Crame, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina Jr. said drug syndicates could have pooled their resources together to fund the "destabilization plots" to stop the PDEA from cracking down on their illegal activities.

Before the failed July 27 military uprising, the PDEA had raided the hideouts and laboratories of several big-time drug traffickers, he added.

"That theory (drug money used to destabilize the government) is now being seriously looked into," he said.

"Before (the) Oakwood (mutiny), (the) government had been cracking down on several drug syndicates. We are now looking into the angle that these syndicates are funding these destabilization moves to stop the government from pushing through with its anti-drug campaign," he said.

Lina said he is confident that the Philippine National Police (PNP) is "up to the job" and can comply with Mrs. Arroyo’s order to "crack the whip" against high-profile crimes, particularly drug trafficking.

"We will meet the problem head on," he said. "We will go after these criminals, even those with political objectives."

Lina said the daring heist at Citibank headquarters in Makati on Aug. 25 was part of a larger "destabilization plot" against the Arroyo administration.

Lina said the 15 heavily armed men, who are believed to belong to the Kuratong Baleleng gang, struck at about 3:30 p.m., when the bank’s time-locked vault closes at 3 p.m.

The robbers were more interested in "painting a scenario of lawlessness and violence" in the Makati business district than actually taking money from the bank, he added.

Avenido said the Philippines and Australia will be working together to prevent the trafficking of drugs between the two countries.

The mechanics of the agreement were discussed during the recent visit to the PDEA headquarters in Camp Crame by Commissioner Michael Joseph Keelty of the Australian federal police, he added.

Avenido said Australia has expressed concern over the drug situation in the Asia-Pacific region, to which Australia and the Philippines belong.

"They (Australian police) expressed willingness to assist the Philippines in the fight against drug trafficking," he said. "We have discussed ways on how to better improve our coordination against transnational drug trafficking, particularly between our two countries."

Avenido said the PDEA and the Australian police have agreed to implement measures that would prevent the smuggling of drugs into Australia from the Philippines, and vice versa.

However, Avenido said the Philippines is not a major source of drugs being smuggled into Australia.

"Drug trafficking is a concern of the entire region," he said. "But as for the arrangement, we will try our best to prevent illegal drugs from entering Australia and the Australian police will do its part in preventing drugs from reaching the Philippines from there."

Meanwhile, Avenido said the PDEA’s anti-drug trafficking operations will be bolstered with the acquisition of 62 brand-new vans.

"These new vehicles are definitely a big factor in our operational capability, especially in terms of mobility," he said.

Avenido said these vans - 30 Toyota Revos, 20 Isuzu Crosswinds and 12 Mitsubishi L300s - were blessed yesterday at the PDEA headquarters at Camp Crame.

They will soon be turned over to the various PDEA offices and units nationwide, he added.

Avenido said that prior to the acquisition of the new vans, most of the PDEA vehicles were borrowed from the PNP.

PDEA spent a total of P40.8 million for the purchase of the vans, he added.

Avenido said the money used to buy the vans came from the P1 billion standby fund from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

"These new vehicles are really a big help to our personnel, especially in the regions," he said. "I hope they would be more inspired in discharging their duties, now that they have their own vehicles."

The release of the money was approved by Mrs. Arroyo, he added.

Rodolfo Caisip, PDEA operations chief, said majority of the new vans will be used by PDEA agents in surveillance operations and in drug raids.

"These vans are now commonly seen in the streets," he said. "These would not attract any attention. In addition, these are not that expensive to maintain."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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