[h1]Drugs gangs influence Philippines politics 'up to national level': official[/h1]
Philippine police commandos inspect vehicles entering the House of Representatives in Manila
3 hours ago
MANILA (AFP) — Illegal drug gangs have penetrated Philippine politics "from the municipal to the national level", officials said Thursday, adding the narcotics problem was so grave it was a threat to national security.
The warning, which put the drug trade at 6.4-8.4 billion dollars annually, comes a year before national elections and days after President Gloria Arroyo said she would be directly overseeing the government's anti-drugs drive.
"Narco-politics is affecting the country at all levels of politics, from the municipal to national level," General Dionisio Santiago, chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), told foreign correspondents.
He declined to give names and would not be drawn on whether the syndicates included people in Arroyo's administration, senators or congressmen.
"The agency is closely watching and gathering intelligence information on a number of people," he said, refusing to be drawn on details.
"You would be surprised with what I know," he added.
He said that, in some cases, the drugs lords have become so rich they are able to bankroll their own campaign for public office, mostly at the municipal level, while others provide funds for their chosen candidates.
"The drug situation in the Philippines could be considered a national security threat," Santiago said, pointing out that there are now 6.7 million Filipino drug users, mostly hooked on amphetamines and marijuana.
A UN report last year ranked the Philippines first for amphetamine abuse in Southeast Asia.
Arroyo last week named herself the country's anti-drugs "czar", saying she needed to be directly involved in the campaign to save the judicial system from being totally corrupted by drug traffickers.
The move came after five state prosecutors were asked to go on leave after PDEA agents said they were offered bribes to free three traffickers from prominent families.