CLARK FREEPORT -- An official of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has described Central Luzon as a “very challenging” region in terms of drugs.

Joseph Latip, PDEA Central Luzon director, disclosed during a media forum dubbed Talk Widus hosted by the Pampanga Press Club (PPC) here that the region was previously used as a manufacturing, transhipment point and consuming site of illegal drugs.

In the past, a significant percentage of more than 100 illegal drug clandestine laboratories [all over the country] were dismantled in the region. At the same time, there were significant volume of drugs that were seized in this particular region,” Latip said.

“And when we say consuming site which I don’t have any data as of now. Ang pinakita ng ating pangulo nasa more than four million drug users in the country. There is also a significant number of drug users in the region,” the PDEA official added.

These factors are enough to consider Central Luzon a priority area for PDEA, according to Latip.

“Kapag pinagsama-sama po natin ang mga bagay na ‘yon, it seems that the region is somehow on a situation wherein we have to give full attention,” Latip said.

The region is part of the super regions next to Metro Manila and a gateway of the country to the North, he added.

Based on the number of operations, PDEA is focusing on the provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan, Latip said.

Bulacan is a cross road from Metro Manila, which is a very critical area because of clandestine laboratories and warehouses that were dismantled in the past, he added.

Latip said Pampanga on the other hand is proximate to Metro Manila and it is a progressive province. “Kapag nakita po natin ang role ng Pampanga, very flourishing province, mayaman ang probinsiyang ito.”

In a developing area like Pampanga, the illegal drugs trade is lucrative, according to Latip.

“People there and income is mataas, maraming pambili ang mga tao. Ang mga drug traffickers ay profit-driven. Hindi naman po papasok yan sa mahirap na bayan kasi mahihirapan kumolekta ng bayad,” Latip said.