Watch: inside the meth lab Chinese criminals set up before being gunned down by Philippine police
Exclusive: Philippine officials said the lab would have been able to make 400kg of shabu every 10 days, or more than one tonne a month
It may seem a great spot to set up a business – on a busy road and opposite an airport. But maybe not when you are dealing shabu.
The Chinese methamphetamine makers who picked the place did not live long enough to regret it.
The sign on the now abandoned premises – in Cauayan, Isabela province in the far north of the Philippines – advertised plastic products and appliances.
Decaying goods and old televisions littered the area outside the warehouses, which once provided cover for the methamphetamine lab inside.
A local police SWAT unit accompanied the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency team showing me perhaps the only raided meth lab in the country that has not been cleared of all the equipment. I was told it was because the case was still being investigated.
Buckets of benzyl cyanide lined the far wall of one room, next to white bins that would have been used for mixing the chemicals had the factory ever become fully operational. Blue “reaction vessels” at the back could have held 1,000-litres of liquid, according to PDEA chemist Jhomar Concepcion, my tour guide.
Huge white tubes carried fumes from the chemical reactions into the room next door, where a “scrubber” neutralised the smell so the neighbours would not complain.
The agency said the lab would have been able to make 400kg of shabu every 10 days, or more than one tonne a month.
If the gang cut that with crushed light bulbs or any other dilution agent and they would have had three tonnes of product hitting the streets regularly, with profits in the millions of pesos. But the Chinese operators only made it to testing their equipment before they were raided in October 2016.
Eager to secure their investment, they grabbed their guns and tried to defend the place. They ended up dead on the ground.
“Ninety per cent of those arrested [are] Chinese – from the mainland or Taiwan,” PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said. “Since 2001 to present, about 800 Chinese nationals [have been] arrested.”
Aquino said coordination with China had improved under President Rodrigo Duterte, with both sides swapping intelligence reports.
However, he appeared frustrated by China’s apparent denial its citizens were involved.
He recalled how they asked him to prove they were Chinese nationals.
“I told them that it’s based on their passports and they told me that the passports are fakes and these are not Chinese, they are Filipino Chinese.”