‘I was working for ISAFP’ Ex-ISAFP chief: Mission order lapsed in 2014
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It was called “Oplan Moses,” and Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino insisted yesterday he was on a covert mission with the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) when he was arrested Thursday in a raid on a suspected shabu laboratory in Manila.

But his former ISAFP boss and now Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano said a mission order that he had issued to Marcelino lapsed in 2014. Ano, however, vouched for Marcelino’s integrity.

Appearing in handcuffs and orange detainee’s shirt yesterday at the Department of Justice (DOJ) for his inquest, a teary-eyed Marcelino said his arrest was “the price I have to pay for my love of this country.”

Marcelino faces charges of conspiracy in the manufacture and possession of illegal drugs under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Also made to undergo inquest proceedings for the same offense was Yan Yi Shou, who was arrested with Marcelino at Celadon Residences on Felix Huertas street in Sta. Cruz, Manila at 1 a.m. Thursday.

Yan was supposedly a former asset of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), for which Marcelino had worked as chief of a special unit.

“I can honestly say, and look you in the eye, I was just doing my job… I was just there because we are verifying information that we got (about the shabu lab),” he told reporters in an ambush interview.

Marcelino said his operation was part of the so-called “Oplan Moses” of the ISAFP.

The eight-page complaint filed by the Philippine National Police-Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (PNP-AIDG) also named as respondents Lo Chi, Atong Lee and a certain Chu, who were the original targets of the raid conducted by virtue of a search warrant issued by Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Fernando Sagun.

Authorities said Marcelino and Yan were found inside a storage facility where 76 kilos of shabu worth P383 million were found. PDEA agents on the scene initially estimated the seized drugs to be 64 kilos with a street value of P256 million.

The former PDEA official was found sitting on a couch when the agents arrived.

Investigating prosecutor Senior Deputy Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva required Marcelino to prove his defense and present a mission order or document showing his presence in the facility was part of a legitimate operation.

His lawyer Dennis Manalo revealed that they have submitted a certification from the Intelligence and Security Group of the Philippine Army showing Marcelino is sharing intelligence information on alleged involvement of Army personnel in the illegal drug trade from September to December last year.

“As as far as Col. Marcelino is concerned, this is clearly a mis-encounter on the part of the agents of PDEA and on the part of his efforts to help in curbing illegal drugs in the country,” Manalo explained to reporters.

But Villanueva was not satisfied and wanted a more specific certification.

The prosecutor then set the charges for preliminary investigation after Marcelino waived his right to speedy resolution under inquest proceedings. A hearing was set on Jan. 27 at 2 p.m.  

Marcelino, meanwhile, is under custody of the PNP-AIDG pending resolution of the charges before the Department of Justice.    

PNP-AIDG head Sr. Supt. Antonio Gardiola said they were giving Marcelino the benefit of the doubt in his claim that he was performing a legitimate drug sting operation.

“He was saying he was on a mission,” Gardiola said. “So far no agent handler has surfaced.”

He said if there had indeed been a mistake, the case officer should immediately have called the arresting officers to vouch for Marcelino.

Gardiola also said Marcelino’s intelligence gathering activity should have also been supported by documents. “It’s hard to operate without documents. He might just get shot at Luneta without him realizing it,” he said.

The PNP-AIDG chief revealed that following Marcelino’s arrest, his men immediately started a hunt for other personalities linked to the operation of the busted shabu laboratory.

Disbelief

Marcelino’s colleagues in the military have expressed disbelief at his reversal of fortunes.

Ano said Marcelino is an upright officer as he vouched for beleaguered officer’s character.

Ano said that after their stint at ISAFP, Marcelino returned to the Navy, his mother unit, while Ano moved to Mindanao following his designation as Army division head.

Ano said he also knew of some agents still reporting to Marcelino after his assignment at ISAFP and that he was sharing information with other intelligence units, including the National Bureau of Investigation.

“I can speak for him when we were working together at (ISAFP) and I knew about the personal crusade he took up against illegal drugs. I can vouch for his integrity. There’s an ongoing investigation and I think he can defend himself,” Ano said.

He surmised that Marcelino must have named him as his handler.

“Perhaps he mentioned me because of my being his former commander at ISAFP where we have developed good working relations. But for now, we are no longer working at the same unit organization,” Ano said.

Several civilian and military colleagues of Marcelino also challenged the PDEA and the Philippine National Police to conduct a lifestyle check on Marcelino.

“Yes, he was caught red-handed with the target and the items but the arresting officer could have afforded him to explain his presence at the said place, being formerly one of the best PDEA officers,” one military officer said.

 “He is a fighter. He spares no one. That is why he earned the ire of people believed to be engage in narco-politics. A single statement from Malacañang will put all these things to rest,” another military officer said.

Narco-politics

Despite some words of support for Marcelino, senators called for tougher actions against drug syndicates, with some renewing calls for the revival of the death penalty.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said the arrest of Marcelino and the discovery of the Manila shabu laboratory have shown that narco-politics is now in the country.

“How can you have so much shabu in one place?” he said as he demanded a deeper probe into Marcelino’s link to the busted shabu laboratory. “If it’s really part of intelligence work, they could have easily verified,” he said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. separately pushed for the death penalty.

Recto said the death penalty must be imposed for those involved in large-scale drug trafficking, including military and police officials who coddle and conspire with them.

“Although I am fundamentally against capital punishment, the impunity by which men in uniform coddle and align themselves with dangerous criminals they are supposed to stop has led me to be open to the restoration of the death penalty if attended by aggravating circumstances like the one I cited above,” Recto said.

Sen.Vicente Sotto III said he could not believe that Marcelino got linked to drug operations.

“I’m shocked. I hope it’s not true. I have no reason to doubt his record before this incident,” said Sotto, former chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a graduate of Philippine Military Academy 1995, lamented how a good soldier may have been lured to the dark side.

“I’m getting mixed reports about him. But for now it’s best that the investigation be allowed to proceed and if he can present the proper documentation or authority to justify his presence in the area, then his name should be cleared. If not, then we have another case of a good officer lured to the dark side,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes said he does not want to prejudge Marcelino, who is his upperclassman at the PMA. 

“Wholesale drug operation does wholesale damage. A sack of shabu victimizes not just one person but many,” he said.

“There are millions of granules in a sack, and each can potentially fuel another crime, by a user who steals money or snatches a phone to feed his habit, to cases of domestic violence,” he said, referring to shabu, which is normally in powdered or granulated form.

“If it is a weapon of mass destruction, then those responsible for its manufacturing and sale must deserve a punishment greater than a cushy taxpayer-paid stay in a Bilibid cell with spa and air-conditioning,” Recto said.

He also lamented reports that drug use and the illicit trade remain unabated despite police operations.

“If the retail trade of shabu is booming, it is because the source is left untouched. The best way to stop water from flowing is not to close each and every faucet, but to shut down the main,” he said.

Grave concern

Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, commended the PNP and the PDEA for the huge accomplishment as she expressed concern over the arrest of a top military officer during the drug sting.

“While I commend the PDEA for another successful raid, the possible involvement of a ranking military officer in the illegal drug trade is a cause for concern,” she said.

Poe urged the police and government prosecutors to investigate the matter thoroughly and with full transparency to get to the bottom of the incident. “This should send a strong message that no one is above the law,” she said.

At the same time, Poe also urged the AFP leadership to look into the matter seriously to ensure that no one from its ranks is involved in the illegal trade.

“On the side of legislation, we have amended the Dangerous Drugs Act to give it more teeth and make it easier to put the drug pushers, drug lords and their conspirators behind jail,” she said.

“Hopefully, we are now feeling its positive effects in the fight against this illegal drug menace,” she added.

Malacañang meanwhile has denied reports that Marcelino is an agent of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.  – Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Mike Frialde, Jaime Laude

ACIRC ANO DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE DRUG DRUGS DRUGS ACT MARCELINO NBSP OFFICER SHABU STRONG
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