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"Is this the real life---or is this fantasy...."
-Freddie Mercury of the rock group QUEEN
in the song "Bohemian Rhapsody"-
Starting in early 1995, I spent almost three years documenting
the activities of a large group of Filipino teens---and, in some
cases, their parents---in Los Angeles, California whose lives
and future were being determined by the devastating effects of
shabu. Below is a condensed version of that study which even-
tually became the basis of my first book project called "Shabu
Photos by JOHN BOBOY SHINN III / LAZamboangaTimes.com © Copyright 2010
Next 6 Years: Our Last Chance to Win the War on Drugs
June 28, 2010, LOS ANGELES: It is my fervent hope that the Philippine government---under the administration of President Noynoy Aquino--- will take
the country's illegal drug problem just as seriously as the problems of insurgency
and poverty he will face at the start of his six-year term.
Pres. Aquino should make the country's drug problem among its top priority
during his first year in office---if any chance of success is warranted--- because
it threatens to destroy not only the lives of our nation's future, but also the
very moral fiber of our society as a nation.
A national information and educational campaign against drug use and abuse should be launched vigorously and immediately --- using the Internet, radio,
TV and newspapers to carry the message --- starting from our grade school
children because their generation is the most vulnerable in our society to fall
victims to this drug menace. Parents should also be made aware of the role they
must play at home by educating their children---and constantly reminding them---about the dangers of drug use and its effects on their health and well-being.
Our high school population should also be made to understand the need for
them to stay drug-free so they can play active roles in the government's anti-
drug effort and act as role models for the younger generation to emulate.
The government should increase the number of rehabilitation centers in
major cities around the country---so those who are willing to become drug-
free will have the opportunity to turn their lives around and become productive members of our society once again.
Monthly drug testing should be made mandatory in all departments and levels
of the government---especially the military and police forces---because this is
where corruption activities is most likely to start and flourish.
The new administration should establish a cabinet position for a civilian
"drug czar" to be made in charged of the nation's anti-drug campaign---
and to stay focused on the issue---in order to achieve its goals. The drug czar
should also submit to Congress quarterly progress reports on the government's
war against drug abuse coming from the country's 13 regions then make proper recommendations to both Houses and the President based on those reports.
Finally---and this is very important in order to succeed and win the war on drugs---President Aquino must have the "political will" (using all the powers
vested in him by the Filipino people who voted him into office) to see to it
that unlimited government funds and resources will be available, when needed,
to ensure the success of the nation's anti-drug program.
As a nation, we should view the next six years of the Aquino Administration
as our last chance to win the war on drugs. Because, if we don't---and we'll lose
this final battle---the Philippines will end up being just like Mexico today.
-John Shinn III, Author, SHABU IN AMERICA, Los Angeles, June 28, 2010-
LOS ANGELES --- The Filipinos' No.1 drug of choice, shabu, has invaded
the shores of the United States. And unlike before, Philippine-based drug syn-
dicates operating in the United States have abandoned the traditional method
of smuggling the dangerous drug (it's main ingredient, "ephedrine," comes
from the ma huang plant which is native to China) into the United States from
the Philippines as the drug has become abundantly available from Mexico.
Shabu first surfaced in Manila in early 1983,
but it was not until 1985 that the drug finally
became widely available at rock-bottom prices.
Today, shabu can be found even in the remote
areas of the country. What is alarming is the
fact that there are no exact figures on how many Filipinos are addicted to this drug. Nor were there
any formal studies conducted---on the dangers
and side effects of the drug---by the Philippine government. One drug analyst in Manila estimates
that at least 3 to 4 million Filipinos are now
addicted to shabu which has grown into a multi-
billion peso industry.
In early 1995, I had the rare opportunity to docu-
ment the activities of a group of Filipinos in Los Angeles whose lives --- and future --- were being determined by the devastating effects of shabu.
I was surprised to find out that shabu was not only popular with Filipino teen-
agers. I also met parents in their 40's and 50's who were likewise addicted to the drug.
One day in September of '95, I was invited to a home in Panorama City, Calif. where I was introduced to a father who was smoking shabu with his 18-year old
son in their living room.
The group cooked and smoked their own "homemade" shabu almost on a daily basis. Majority of them were in their 20's and 30's and were jobless---or have lost their jobs and their homes and families. The long-term side effects of shabu eventually leads them to a life of crime, deteriorating health and lost of trust
among friends and loved ones.
Their prolonged and continued use of the drug has also caused them to des-
pise each other. Paranoia sets in and none of them would reveal were they
actually lived---that is, if they still had a place to call home. Oftentimes, group members would steal from each other.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III © Copyright 2010
CHASING THE DRAGON. A group of Filipinos get together for a 'shabu'
session in a Los Angeles motel.
Mang Tony, 52, took four of his friends to his apartment because they no
longer had a place to stay. Mang Tony recounts that he went to the grocery
and cooked food for them.
When they left a week later, they took with them his collection of 4 sets of expensive darts, his stereo and VCR. They left without even bothering to say
thank you or goodbye. "I gave them shelter, I fed them and they slept in my home---yet look what they did. Those monkeys even had the face to steal
from me," Mang Tony said.
In another case, 34-year old Gerry P. one day asked his childhood friend
Jose L., 38, to go to the local Dept. of Water & Power to pay his water and
electricity bill of $300. Gerry handed his car keys to Jose and an envelope
containing $300 in cash. That was the last time Gerry saw Jose. When I con-
tacted Gerry two weeks after the incident, Jose has not been back since he
took off with the money and his car, a 1992 Honda Accord.
In the next several months since I met and observed the group in Los
Angeles --- for a book project documenting their daily ritual of cooking, smo-
king and selling shabu --- I have come to the conclusion that shabu is more
dangerous than any other drug available in the market today.
The 20-second rush of crack cocaine is nothing, many of them said, com-
pared to the euphoria they get from smoking shabu which would often last for
days on end. A few of them admitted they were heavy crack users long before
they discovered shabu.
MAKE GOV'T ANTI-DRUG CAMPAIGN A TOP PRIORITY. The Philippine go-
vernment---under a newly-elected administration in 2010---should view
the country's worsening drug situation just as seriously as poverty and the insurgency problem in the countryside.
"Crack cocaine drove me crazy," admitted Jerome R., 19, a chubby high school dropout and gang member from Buena Park, Calif. Instead of finishing his studies, Jerome now works 24 hours a day running errands and making deliveries of shabu.
"You're so high on speed, but at the same time you feel and act so normal.
That's what makes this drug so dangerous," said Jimmy B., a 42-year old former postal employee in Los Angeles who was terminated from his job seven years ago after he was caught stealing credit cards from the mail. His wife of 18 years soon
left him and took their 2 teenage children with her. Despite what happened, it
still has not sunk in and Jimmy continues to live in self-denial.
That night when I saw Jimmy again he looked more like in his 60's. I would not have recognized him if he didn't remind me who he was. I still vividly remember meeting him in 1986 at a party and what a big beer belly he had then. But the
Jimmy I met when I thanked and bade the group goodbye --- at the conclusion of
my study --- was not the healthy and happy Jimmy I met 13 years before. The last
time I saw him was in 1988 at a picnic held at the Bob Hope Park in Burbank, Calif. One of my Dad's brother worked at the same post office facility with Jimmy for several years. "We were more than brothers. In fact, we are compadres," he says proudly.
Jimmy's facial features have changed dramatically---and it scared me because
he looked remarkably very different. I've seen a lot of events transpired in some people's lives. I've covered a lot of stories---from massive and violent street demonstrations against the Marcos regime to the war between Muslim rebels and Philippine government troops in my 28 years as a photojournalist---but I've never
felt so sad, depressed and disappointed --- afler I saw Jimmy again that night. His emaciated face will forever be seared in my memory.
Jimmy looked extremely different --- so old and wrinkled. As a photojournalist
I've developed a unique style in remembering a person's face even decades after
I met them. But the fact that I failed to recognize him---gave me the goose
The drug obviously robbed him of his youthful appearance that he now looks
like a grandfather in his early 60's---although he's only 42. He's lost most of his
upper front teeth (the drug slowly eats away the users' tooth enamel, weakens
the roots and damages the gums) and weighs a mere 120 lbs. for his 5'9" frame.
"I used to weigh 175 lbs. he said with a faint smile.
Oftentimes, shabu smokers stay awake for days at a time. It is only when the user's body can no longer endure the physical and mental fatigue they get from smoking shabu---will the user finally go to sleep lasting sometimes over 24 hours.
In my study, one member of the group stayed awake for four nights in a row
that he started hallucinating and having stomach cramps after taking very little
food or liquid during the 96-hour period. Shabu users normally have no appetite
and the end result is for them to lose a lot of weight over a period of time. And
as time goes by, a shabu user can no longer tell the difference between reality
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III © Copyright 2010
$140 A GRAM IN L.A. Shabu's rising popularity and increased demand in
the Filipino communities in the U.S. has driven up the price of the drug.
In Los Angeles, for instance, 'shabu' costs anywhere between $100 to
$140 a gram depending on the buyer's connections.
bers, loved ones, friends, and medical practitioners to detect addiction or pinpoint
an addict in it's early stage when counter-measures and other preventive methods could normally be applied without the user going through an extensive drug reha-
The results of my shabu study-- starting in Manila in 1989 and my personal involvement with several childhood friends, a few relatives and loved ones, inclu-
ding a large group of Filipino teens and their parents in Los Angeles made me
decide to start writing my first book on the subject of shabu.
The book will make shabu abusers and non-users alike as well as their love ones and members of the family --- understand the devastating effects of the drug and how they could best deal with the problem and to understand the need to help and comfort those who are deeply involved and helplessly addicted to the drug. The
drug's main ingredient is ephedrine, it's raw product, known in the U.S. for it's Tagalog term, "tik-tik."
I'm sure many among us know someone or have loved ones, friends or members
of the family who have fallen victirn to this extremely dangerous drug. It only goes
to show the seriousness of the problem and how pervasive and how deeply-rooted
the problem has become---not only in the Philippines but also in Filipino communi-
ties across North America.
We must not let our feelings of helplessness discourage us in fighting this glo-
bal drug menace. We must stand up and fight the people who make their living
destroying the lives of other fellow human beings.
I hope this book will help save lives in the years to come by explaining to those who are unfamiliar with the drug problem on how to deal with a potential problem involving this drug should they encounter them.
The book --- and this is my main objective in choosing this subject --- will
greatly increase awareness among our people, the young ones specially, on the devastating (physical, mental and spiritual) effects of the drug not only to the
addict's well-being, but also to members of their family and the many the people around them. My ultimate objective is to discourage the younger generation from experimenting with shabu by presenting them with detailed facts, pictures and illustrations and numerous cases and real-life incidents I have documented since 1989.
The [shabu] drug problem in the 7,107-island nation has reached epidemic proportions that a senator once expressed alarm over the situation and compared
the magnitude of the shabu problem in the Philippines to that of cocaine in Colom-
bia in South America.
I strongly encourage people reading this article to join us in the battle against
the shabu menace and drug abuse by showing compassion and understanding to
those who are already addicted to the drug---instead of criticizing, jailing or puni-
shing them because an addict is just as much a victim as the loved ones they hurt. The best place to start this campaign is with one's family circle at home---particu-
larly the children.
I hope Filipinos will view the shabu problem as a personal struggle and urge
the Aquino Administration to organize a national task force with the main goal of drawing up solutions and preventive measures in its fight against the shabu me-
nace now permeating even the remotest part of the 7,107-island nation---because
the situation is already out of control.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III © Copyright 2010
GROWING MARKET FOR 'SHABU' IN THE U.S. A front page article by the
author on the growing market for 'shabu' in the U.S. published by the Fi-
lipino-American Herald (Nov. 15, 1995 edition) based in Seattle, Washing-
Since shabu first surfaced in the streets of Manila in early 1985, the Philippine government has not launched any meaningful and objective campaign to educate
the general public on the harmful side effects of the drug. If such an undertaking would be put into action, it should start by educating our grade and high school population because it is they who are very much vulnerable to fall prey to this dangerous drug.
up outpatient clinics and rehabilitation centers in major cities throughout the
country. This should be placed among the top priorities in our country's anti-drug campaign---if we are to achieve any measure of success.
On the city, provincial and barangay levels, local officials must be "ordered" to
be always vigilant as ever against drug activities in their respective areas and localities and they must be rewarded---and their collective effort recognized --- accordingly, by the national government.
We must unite in the war against drugs, the drug lords and their suppliers be-
cause the future of our country and our children's children and their children are
at stake here.
It's never too late for the Philippine government to start now. (END)
'SHABU IN AMERICA'
Photos by JOHN L. SHINN III © Copyright 2010
How A Personal 'Shabu' Bedroom Lab in L.A. Looks Like
It took me almost a year to gain the trust and confidence of the group's mem-
bers---enough for one of them to let me shoot pictures while he was cooking shabu in his room in Panorama City, Calif. Shabu users normally have no appe-
tite and the end result is for them to lose a lot of weight over a short period of time. And as time goes by, a shabu user can no longer tell the difference bet-
ween reality and fantasy.
FINAL WORDS FROM THE AUTHOR
Jan. 10, 2010, LOS ANGELES: I'm in the process of finishing up
the book. I had to rewrite the final part to make sure it is upda-
ted. Also, I wanted include some of the latest pictures I've shot
---regarding the subject---for the book.
I welcome any comments, suggestions and personal stories
of former addicts and members of their family which I intend
to incorporate into the final chapters of the book.
In the past I received offers to make some type of a documentary based
on this book. The documentary was intended for viewing in the Philippines targeting the grade and high school population---and likewise showing it in theaters nationwide for the masses to watch. But nothing came out of it.
The urgency of finishing the book has never been greater now with a
newly-elected government in the Philippines. How many of us know some-
one---dear friends and family members---who have become victims of this
very dangerous drug? That only goes to show how we all are affected by
this menace in our society.
We have to increase the pressure on the new Administration to declare
the country's anti-drug campaign a national emergency and make eradica-
ting it among its top priority during its term in the next six years.
The only way we can achieve any measure of success---in pressuring the Philippine government---is if we have a collective voice. Write the new Phi-
lippine president, write your congressman and senator wherever city or dis-
trict you happen to live in the United States---so that your representative
can also write the new administration in Manila about making the drug pro-
blem one of its top agendas.
Like I said any suggestions or ideas that will help us in our battle against
the drug menace in the Philippines---is most welcome. Let us know what
your thoughts and feelings are, especially those who now consider them-
selves "recovering addicts." Your personal stories will inspire us not to
give up this fight no matter what the odds are at this point.
BY JOHN L. SHINN III
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