Possibly only in the Philippine can drug traffickers locate their manufacturing in one of the most exclusive residential villages in the country. These are some creative crooks we have here.
Shabu lab raided inside Ayala Alabang
While their neighbors slept, the five Chinese men in the big house on Acacia Avenue were quietly producing “shabu,” or methamphetamine hydrochloride, right inside the very exclusive Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa City.
Agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) raided what they described as a medium-scale drug laboratory on a sprawling property in the plush subdivision, confiscated drug equipment and paraphernalia, and arrested the suspects before dawn on Friday.
Based on their inspection of the facilities, PDEA agents said the entire production line could manufacture a minimum of 10 kilograms of shabu per cycle, although the scale of the production and the frequency of each cycle were still being investigated.
The street value of 10 kg of shabu is about P50 million, at P5,000 per gram.
“We arrested all the manufacturers, so now we’re working to hunt down their distributors,” said Evangeline Almenario, the PDEA public information chief, in a phone interview.
“The neighborhood had no idea that something was going on,” said Almenario.
She noted how difficult it would have been to detect any suspicious activities just from the gate of the 1-hectare rental residence on 504 Acacia Avenue, which includes a main house located several meters downhill from the entrance, two storage buildings and a swimming pool at the back.
The startling discovery of the drug laboratory has again placed Ayala Alabang Village at the center of a narcotics-related controversy just months after the recent acquittal of two of the so-called Alabang boys, scions of prominent village residents, who were arrested and charged with possession of “ecstasy” pills in 2008.
According to Almenario, this latest case was not related to the cases of Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph, who were absolved of the crime by a Muntinlupa court last August. The case against a third Alabang boy, Joseph Tecson, remains pending in a Quezon City court.
PDEA Director General Jose Gutierrez Jr. identified the five who were arrested Friday as Lam Ka Chun, 51; Ken Ming Chao, alias Lam Tse Kin, 49; Kwok Chi Keung, 42; Choi Yiu Chun, 33; and Choi Yiu Kit, 33.
Seized during the 4 a.m. operation were unspecified amounts of finished shabu products, “controlled drug precursors and essential chemicals and laboratory equipment,” Gutierrez said. An inventory of the confiscated materials was still ongoing Friday afternoon.
She said the PDEA believes that the drug manufacturers’ operation is based in Metro Manila but they have distributors who take the drugs to other places.
Philippine National Police spokesperson Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr. said the raid was conducted using a search warrant issued by Judge Marino de la Cruz Jr. of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22.
No telltale signs
Almenario said the suspects, who began renting the property last year, managed to hide their activities from other Ayala Alabang homeowners because the facilities they used, including the house and one of the storerooms, were located a considerable distance from the residence’s entrance.
“The guards at the gate are strict, but because the suspects had homeowners’ passes, they could bring in anything or take out anything without going through inspection,” she said.
She said that usually there would be telltale signs of the presence of a drug laboratory, such as wilted plants and noxious fumes from chemicals, in a gated community.
“But here, you would have to walk several feet before you get to the main house, so you couldn’t tell anything was amiss. The air is not sealed off and the plants appear normal,” she said.
“There were no signs that something like that was happening inside,” Almenario said.
She said the suspects were already under surveillance by the PDEA agents since last year when the agency was alerted to their activities. “They were moving from one place to another until they settled there,” she said, declining to name the other places that the suspects had been.
Almenario said it was only a coincidence that the drug laboratory was inside the same subdivision where two of the Alabang boys, Brodett and Joseph, were arrested for the alleged sale and possession of 60 ecstasy tablets.
But she said this only showed that drug operators are wrong to think they are safe in secluded, exclusive subdivisions like Ayala Alabang. “We are monitoring other places like this,” Almenario said.
Ayala Alabang’s strict security policy has come under scrutiny in the face of Friday’s raid on one of the houses there.
Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro has asked the officers of the Ayala Alabang barangay and its homeowners association to ease up on the subdivision’s tough security measures which he said had been abused by the four Chinese suspects.
San Pedro, who met with the barangay officials on Friday when he inspected the house on Acacia Street, directed Alabang barangay officials to coordinate with the homeowners’ association on the village’s security policy, said Omar Acosta, the Muntinlupa government information chief.
For instance, he suggested that they could perhaps instruct village guards to allow unhampered access to police officers serving warrants there.
The mayor also asked the barangay to maintain an updated record of the names of residents within their jurisdiction, which is covered by the unit’s mandate as provided in the local government code, Acosta said.
However, whatever adjustments are to be made in the security arrangements should also be “consistent with regulations of the homeowners association,” since Ayala Alabang Village is private property after all, Acosta explained.
But if access inside the wealthy enclave continues to be a problem for the local government, the Muntinlupa mayor may just ask the city council to pass an ordinance that would provide authorities with unhampered entry inside the subdivision, he said.
“The mayor doesn’t want that to happen. But if barangay officials and the homeowners association do not come up with a better arrangement, the mayor may pursue this other option,” Acosta said.
Barred from entering
City hall sources have attested to the tough security measures implemented by the village, where an array of personalities from government, diplomatic circles and show business reside.
The sources cited one instance in which city health workers investigating complaints about the increase in mosquitoes in the village surroundings had a hard time entering the subdivision.
The health workers later discovered that some untended swimming pools in the village appeared to have collected rainwater and these served as a breeding ground for the insects.
One city hall official said the limited access of authorities to the subdivision “may have encouraged suspects to put up a shabu laboratory there.”
“The strict security limited their detection by law enforcement agencies,” the source said.
Residents interviewed by the Inquirer said they had noticed a noxious scent in the air in the past few months, particularly during the wee hours.
One resident recalled that she had to close her windows because of the pungent odor, which she said smelled like burnt chemicals.
She said she raised the matter with the village security, but was later told that everything was all right.