Miyerkules, Pebrero 29, 2012

Feature: Information as wielder of power: PIA’s Anti-Drug Courier Program and the Anvil Awards

It was February in 2011 when three Filipinos were sentenced by the Chinese government to death penalty by lethal injection. The criminal offense: drug trafficking. This was also the year when the terms “drug mule”, “drug couriers”, “drug trafficking” have recurrently appeared in dailies and tv/radio programs. Drug trafficking took the Philippines by storm and it certainly caught Filipinos off guard in more ways than one.

The three executed Filipinos-- who first were arrested separately in China in 2008 for carrying packages of at least four kilograms of heroin, then prosecuted and convicted in 2009—were all victims of drug trafficking. Like the other Filipinos who engage in drug smuggling, these three were lured by the promise of money without really knowing the gravity of the offense and the penalty attached to committing such. 

Drug trafficking is such a serious crime in other countries particularly China that not even the Philippine government’s intervention could stop or alter the said country’s verdict.  The Chinese government carried out the death penalty of the three Pinoys on March 30, 2011. This worsened the already lukewarm diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China.

The story doesn’t end there. In September 2011, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) recorded some 700 drug smuggling cases involving Filipinos around the world — 83 of these drug couriers faced possible death while the rest were awaiting their fate in jail.  

According to PDEA, Filipinos engaging in drug trafficking are mostly overseas Filipino workers hoping to earn money for economic support. They are usually domestic helpers, teachers, and unsuspecting individuals either looking for job in foreign countries.

PDEA said that these drug traffickers, also called drug mules, transport heroin, shabu, cocaine or marijuana mostly to China, then to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Drugs are often hidden in luggages, shoes or handbags, or are ingested using latex balloons and capsules. Some would even undergo surgical operations to hide the substance in the internal parts of the body.

Filipino females are the preferred drug mules because of lesser detection risks from authorities. Filipino women are either promised money or marriage by foreign drug syndicates.

The ominous threat of the rising number of Filipino traffickers arrested in other countries has alarmed the government. While the PDEA has been vigilant and active in its mandate of apprehending drug traffickers, more and more Filipinos perpetrate such an offense for lack of awareness and understanding of the risks and dangers of engaging in such a vicious activity. Even how big-time drug syndicates work is not known by many.

And because of this, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) launched in that same year (2011) an information and awareness campaign against drug trafficking. Known as Anti-Drug Courier Program, the program was meant to protect the Filipinos from drug syndicates through information and advocacy campaigns. The target of the campaign are Filipinos who are in search of job in other countries. Those coming from the provinces are easy targets of drug syndicates for their lack of awareness of their modus operandi. 

PIA Director-General Atty. Jose A. Fabia said that the Ant-Drug Courier Program aims “to help increase the awareness level of people about drug trafficking and drug syndicates so that less Filipinos will be victimized."

Since the program’s launch, the PIA has utilized various media platform in the dissemination of information which has strengthened public awareness and education about drug trafficking and drug syndicates. In addition, the PIA, PDEA, and other partner agencies have conducted more than 200 public fora and press conferences in the various regions of the country. The discussions served to inform the public about how drug trafficking syndicates operate, how they recruit Filipinos to become drug mules and the ways on how drugs are concealed.

Tens of thousands individuals from the different sectors have participated in the meetings. With the multitude of participants in the fora and other related activites, the campaign underwent multiplier effect when they shared their knowledge about the drug smuggling issue with their families and friends through platforms such as the internet or telecommunication. The emergence of social media made the anti-drug mule campaign more resounding and more ubiquitous.

PIA’s Communication and News Exchange tv-radio program and government media’s tv-radio program “Talking Points”  became a springwell of information for journalists and other media practitioners. These programs were venues for the publication of printed and broadcast news releases that describe the helplessness of Filipino drug mules and warned the public against fraudulent promises like travel perks, monetary rewards, and job opportunities offered by drug smuggling syndicates

PIA utilized social media like social networking sites Facebook and Twitter for the campaign. The number of Filipinos who were reached out by the campaign through situationers was countless considering the multiplier effect of these networking sites plus the number of Filipino Facebook and Twitter users here and abroad.  

In the end, the Anti-Drug Courier Program aided in making Filipinos more vigilant against international drug trafficking syndicates as evidenced in the decrease of Filipino drug mules. From 78 arrests in 2010, the number dropped to 14 in 2011—an 82% drop in incidence of drug smuggling involving Filipinos, and certainly a sign of the effectiveness of PIA’s program.

Such triumph of PIA’s Anti-Drug Courier Program was duly recognized during the 47th Anvil Awards held at the EDSA Shangri-la Hotel in Mandaluyong City when it was given the Merit Award for the category – Public Relations Program on a Sustained Basis. Such a feat is noteworthy for few government agencies get such recognition from the award-giving organization Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP).

This year’s Anvil Awards is dubbed the “Oscars” of local PR practice as it recognizes outstanding programs and tools implemented from Oct. 2010 to Oct. 2011 as well as adheres to strict and high standard in the evaluation of PR programs and tools set by a board of jurors comprising the who’s who in Philippine and international advertising, media, academe, and public relations. 

Anvil Awards recognizes the value of corporate social responsibility and effective communications campaigns that are implemented by government offices and private corporations to inform and empower the public especially our marginalized citizens. It is guided by its mission of steering the country towards progress while preserving its precious heritage and culture, and leading the way in development, refinement, and dissemination of knowledge and skills of the profession in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Anvil Awards’ recognition of PIA’s Anti-Drug Courier Program is a testament of the synergy of private entities and the government in achieving the unified goal of national development through public relations that is informative, responsive, innovative, and one that would empower the Filipino people.

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