Poverty and Filipino Drug Mules

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Poverty and the Filipino Drug Mules

Introduction

Among the most admired Filipinos today are the Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. They have been dubbed as New Heroes or Bagong Bayani by no less than the late Corazon “Cory” Aquino because of the way they willingly leave their families and the comforts of home to pursue high-earning jobs abroad. An estimated 8.2 to 11 million Filipinos or 11% of the total Filipino population work in other countries to support their families and to make their dreams of a better life into a reality. But today, the honor and reputation of OFWs have become marred because of controversial drug mules among them who have been arrested in various countries, with a number sentenced to die in China (“Overseas”, 2011).

According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), drug mules transport heroin, shabu, cocaine or marijuana mostly to China (90%), Hong Kong (9%) and Taiwan (1%). Drugs are usually hidden in suitcases, luggage, shoes or handbags, ingested or swallowed using latex balloons and capsules, or strapped to the body. Some are even inserted to the body through minor surgical operations, or in worse cases, inserted into the female vagina. Filipino females are the preferred drug couriers because they pose lesser detection risk from authorities (Agatep, 2011).

PDEA reveals that the modus operandi of recruiters is to befriend potential drug mules or victims with high-paying job offers, or an offer to marry the recruit, or meet through casual acquaintance or social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space. They even engage travel agents and tour operators to arrange airline and hotel bookings and use fake credit cards and documents to quickly facilitate transactions (Agatep, 2011).

Journalist Wanda Smith (n.d.) explained how drugs are often divided into pellets to be inserted into the body or orifice; drug mules who swallow them then take laxatives for expelling the drug pellets. Despite the risk of capture, illness or even death due to accidental bursting of the drugs inside the body, many are tempted to become drug mules for the price of $1,000 to $15,000 and to escape from extreme poverty.

It appears that extreme poverty and the lack of money, which is the root of evil, drive many OFWs to act as drug mules for international drug syndicates. Statistics reveal that most of these syndicates often target women as drug mules, tempting them to carry drugs in luggages for money (“Overseas”).

Historical Background/Development

The issue of drug mules is not new, although it is not as old as the issue of massive poverty. One of those executed in China in 2011, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva was arrested for carrying four kilograms of heroin in 2008 and was sentenced to death in 2009 despite insistence of her innocence. Another Filipino drug mule who was executed in December 2011 was arrested with 1.5 kilos of heroin at the Gullin International Airport also in 2008 (Ching, 2011).

It can be argued that the root cause of the drug mule problem – the extreme poverty of millions of Filipinos goes back many years. According to economist Tullao (1993), about half or 49.5% of Filipino families in 1988 had income below poverty level. Economists Vivar et al. (1998) reported a poverty incident of 39.2%. Surprisingly, the national Statistics Commission Board give different figures for poverty headcount ratio of the national poverty line which was 33.1 % in 1991; 36.8 % in 1997; 33% in 2000; 24.9% in 2003; 26.4 % in 2006 and 26.5% in 2009. The World Bank gives actual figures of 26.5 million Filipinos living below the poverty line in 1985; 30.4 million in 2000; 22.2 million in 2006; and 23.1 million in 2009. With these figures, it is not surprising that many Filipinos are forced to work as OFWs and are tempted to act as drug mules or victimized to become one.

From a historical and economic viewpoint, the causes of poverty are inadequate education, physical...
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