Press Release
February 14, 2011

Privilege Speech
Sen. Vicente C. Sotto III
Majority Floor Leader

Mr. President, the poppy is a plant. Scientific name - Papaver Somniferum. It is the source of opium and of poppy seeds.

Because the poppy plant is beautiful with a distinctive bulb, its defenders claim that being beautiful is enough reason for its existence, an argument that may have some relevance today, being the day of love and hearts. This is the floral argument for the poppy plant.

Because poppy seeds derived from the poppy plant enhance the looks and taste of food and bakery products, bakers use the culinary argument as redeeming value of poppy seeds.

Under the old regime of Republic Act 6425, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, defenders of use of opium poppy seeds assert that poppy seeds was not categorically included in the definition of opium under R.A. 6425 which merely mentioned opium and its active components and derivatives.

I remember having spoken before this chamber during my first term as senator, and with the help of our journal and archive divisions, my remarks on poppy seeds were found in the senate journal of 1996. It was a lonely task then to sound the alarm against poppy seeds for lack of convincing proof of its deadly potential. Many honestly considered them harmless food condiments.

Yet, I still maintain my position then, and do so more now, that poppy seeds are precursors of that dangerous-drugs source -- the opium poppy plant. I have the evidence.

A couple of weeks ago, I was furnished a report by the Dangerous Drugs Board, Technical Working Group that opium poppy seeds and opium poppy seed-laced food products are openly sold in our midst, in trendy groceries and bakeshops, and supermarkets.

Article I Section 3 of Republic Act 9165, otherwise known as "The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002", defines opium poppy and includes the seed as part of the definition.

Article II of Republic Act 9165, provides:

Importation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. - The penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to Ten Million pesos (P10,000,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall import or bring into the Philippines any dangerous drug, regardless of the quantity and purity involved, including any and all species of opium poppy or any part thereof or substances derived there from even for floral, decorative and culinary purposes.

Thus, the decorative and culinary arguments for the continued importation of these items are no longer availing, because the law declares the opium poppy and any part thereof as illegal. It is, as the lawyers say, mala prohibita.

In order to verify the truth or falsity of the assertion that opium poppy seeds are openly sold in grocery stores, a test-buy was conducted in a high-end delicatessen in Quezon City for the purchase of the poppy seeds. The test-buy pushed through and the poppy seeds were subjected to laboratory examination.

Astonishingly, a curious thing happened. Members of the DDB-Technical Working Group succeeded in germinating opium poppy plants from the poppy seeds bought in that high-end grocery store in Quezon City. We have pictures of the sprouting poppy plants from the seeds bought as food condiments.

On the law enforcement side, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Dangerous Drugs Board reported that a foreign national and owner of a chain of restaurants was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for trafficking dangerous drugs in Metro Manila.

NBI Director Magtanggol B. Gatdula identified the suspect as: LEEYOUVENHOUK BAROUTIAN, 51, married, Iranian and a resident of 850 G. Ibarra St., Sampaloc, Manila. He owns four (4) World Class Persian Kebab Restaurants located in Santolan, Pasig City; Tomas Morato, Quezon City; Pioneer, Mandaluyong; and Sucat, Parañaque City. Investigation by the Reaction, Arrest and Interdiction Division (RAID) headed by Chief Ross Jonathan Galicia disclosed that the NBI received information about the proliferation of opium in Manila.

Sustained surveillance conducted pointed to suspect Baroutian, the source of the opium in the Manila area. He was arrested by a team of NBI operatives while transporting 15 grams of opium along Blumentritt St., Sampaloc, Manila. Thereafter, by virtue of a search warrant issued by Manila Executive Judge Amor Reyes, he was brought to his residence where more opium and marijuana were found.

Found and seized were 55 grams of opium and 9 grams of marijuana. He was brought to the NBI where he is detained. Baroutian was then referred to the Office of the Manila City Prosecutor for inquest proceedings. Probable cause was found to indict him for violation of Section 5 and 11 of Art. II of RA 9165 with no bail recommended.

Today, I alert the nation once again on these poppy seeds. They are not harmless. In fact, after an ingestion of these poppy seeds, one will test positive for opium in a drug test, as found by the Dangerous Drugs Board.

And for the most alarming revelation of my clarion call, we have found an opium poppy plantation in the soil of Barangay Paoay, Halsema Highway, Atok, Benguet, Cordillera Region.

Opium poppy plantation in our midst is no laughing matter. Today, such plantations abound in the Golden Triangle countries of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand (**Military operations/AFP). In the Middle East, the places where these abound is referred to as the Golden Crescent-Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. (**Al-Qaeda)

I am concerned, Mr. President, because before World War II, we had no marijuana plantation. It took only one flowerpot of marijuana after the Second World War for us to become today a significant grower of marijuana, with us ranking second only to Mexico in marijuana production.

And so, as I stand here today, I do not want this to happen again with respect to the poppy plant. Those seeds openly sold as food condiments today may well be the precursors of huge opium poppy plantations in the future.

For now, I want to call attention to this flagrant violation of R.A. 9165 by supposedly reputed stores of high end food and bakery products of selling poppy seeds. I therefore urge all outlets of these poppy seeds to cease and desist from offering these as condiments. It is illegal. I call on law enforcement operatives to include this information in their operations on anti-illegal drug activities.

In the Asean region, we are committed to eradicate illegal drugs by 2015. I am not that optimistic about it, but let it not be said that we were sleeping on the job. The law is clear. The mandate is there. Let us begin in earnest in this long and difficult road to make a drug-free Philippines. If that sounds hard to attain, I would settle for a drug-resistant Philippines.

Thank you.

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