By: L.N. Reklai
This November marks the one year anniversary of the Belau Drug Enforcement Taskforce (BDETF) which was put together by President Tommy E. Remengesau last year to combat the rising use of illegal drugs in Palau, especially methamphetamine or “ice”.
In one year period, according to Public Safety Director Ismael Aguon, the Taskforce conducted 117 operations resulting in 99 active investigations. Out of these investigations, 51 cases were filed in court, 23 resulted in convictions and 3 were dismissed. 61 people were charged with the oldest being 70 years old and youngest a 13 year old girl. The highest sentence given to one defendant is 14-year imprisonment with $103,000 dollar fine.
“In all the cases that have been to court, not once had the Taskforce been called to testify,” stated Aquon. This means that the cases have been well put together and therefore, had not required further testimony from them.
From these investigations, a total of 645.45 grams of methamphetamine or “ice” worth over $500,000 dollars on the streets, were seized by the Taskforce.
Also seized were 2,457 grams of marijuana, 7 illegal fire arms consisting of 5 hand gun and 2 rifles. Nine (9) vehicles were confiscated, 3 were forfeited to the government and 6 are pending outcome of trials.
A total of $55,460 cash were seized from the operations and were remitted to the National Treasury.
Director Aguon further revealed that about 80% of the drugs coming to Palau are coming from the Philippines. With the crackdown on drugs in the Philippines, it is expected that more may be coming this way.
Furthermore, Aquon warned that methamphetamine or “ice” coming to Palau is the purest form, or 99% pure, meaning that it is extremely addictive. He said there are lower quality “ice” that are made in other localities but not in Palau. “We are getting the pure products made from super labs in Asia and these are very dangerous,” added Aquon.
Meanwhile, the price of methamphetamine or “ice” in Palau is very high, making it an attractive market to sellers. One gram of “ice” costs about a $1,200 in Palau. In Guam and Saipan, it’s between $700 to $800 dollars. In Philippines it’s about $30 dollars. There are not a lot of sources in Palau says Aguon in an interview, that’s why the price is higher.
“We cannot say that the drug problem will be completely resolved,” said Director Aguon, ”but it can be reduced significantly with focused effort such as what the Drug Taskforce is doing.”
“I don’t know how long the Taskforce will exist. This depends on the President,” stated Aquon when asked how much longer the Taskforce will be in operation. “We are soldiers, we follow orders and do what needs to be done,” he added.
Asked what can be done to improve the system, Director Aguon stated that there is always room for improvement. Having more lawyers at AGO to take on the cases was one but the biggest factor affecting the time it take to get the case to court is the waiting to get results of evidence tested by Guam Crime Lab.
“The average time it takes for evidence to get tested and for us to receive the results is about 30 days,” says Aguon. “That the biggest delaying factor to the process because that lab in Guam tests Guam’s own evidences, DEA’s, FBI’s, Saipan’s and then Palau.”
The Belau Drug Enforcement Taskforce has 5 full-time officers, 4 males and 1 female. They pull in other law enforcement officers from other agencies to help them when cases require it such as Customs Officers and others. [/restrict]