THE arrest of Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino in a drug bust operation four days ago is seriously alarming.
Either of the versions of the story – that Marcelino, who made a name for himself for busting drug syndicates when he was director until 2012 of the Special Enforcement Service (SES) of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was framed up or that he has succumbed to the temptation of big money – is indeed worrisome because it would show that the multi-billion peso illegal drugs trade has penetrated the law enforcement agency.
If, on one hand, it is true that Marcelino, reportedly hard up, has joined the drug gangs that he once fought, then we are really in deep trouble.
On the other hand, if his claim that he is being framed up and that an influential person is behind it, then we are in an equally deep shit. Big dirty drug money must be on it.
We all know that the illegal drugs trade has not only destroyed so many lives all over the world but has also helped put people in power in some countries, the Philippines included.
Law enforcement agencies have long warned us about narco-politics –how illegal drug syndicates work to influence elections or appointments in the bureaucracy to protect their trade, how drug money has found its way into the campaign kitties of candidates, and how it is used to seal political alliances.
Narco-politics is no longer confined to Latin American countries where the presence of drug syndicates is strong.
The Philippine Commission on Transnational Crimes (PCTC) has acknowledged that the involvement of law enforcement officers in the illegal drugs trade has made solving the problem a Herculean task.
We often read news about politicians, soldiers and policemen either as direct participants or protectors of drug traffickers and traders. Thus, both versions of the story on Marcelino’s involvement in the drugs trade, either as a drug buster or a drug lord, are easy to believe.
News reports quoted a classmate of Marcelino in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1994 that the former director of the PDEA Special Enforcement Service (SES) had financial problems last year for the treatment of his ailing father. The same classmate, who is in the Army, had said it was out of character for Marcelino to become a drug lord, citing the economic status of his family.
“Imposible na siya ang magiging drug lord dahil hirap nga ‘yung pamilya niya eh…Economically, i-check nila. Walang-wala ‘yung mama,” the unnamed classmate was quoted to have said.
He asserted that Marcelino could have easily enriched himself as a drug-buster had he wanted to. “Yet in his hands were billions of pesos. Ano ba naman ‘yung kumuha siya ng 10 kilo ng shabu at ibenta?” he pointed out.
Could it be possible that financial problems had forced him to dip his hands into the jar?
Surely, Marcelino has a lot of explaining to do to justify his presence in the house on Felix Huertas corner Batangas Streets in Santa Cruz, Manila on January 21 in the company of 33-year-old Yan Yi Shou, a Chinese national who was a PDEA asset as interpreter in 2005.
The house turned out to be a large-scale clandestine laboratory and storage for illegal drugs where at least 64 kilograms of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) estimated to be worth P320 million were found and seized.
Let us hope and pray that the confiscated drugs won’t be replaced by “tawas” later on.
The raiding team from PDEA and the Philippine National Police (PNP) may also face some legal technicalities like using a search warrant to entrap Marcelino and Shou.
Reports said Marcelino had long been reassigned from PDEA to his mother unit, the Navy, where he assumed various assignments until he was designated as group commander of the Military Intelligence Group-4 (MIG-4) of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces if the Philippines (AFP) in 2014.
Just a few days before his arrest, he was appointed as superintendent of the Naval Officer Candidate School (NOCS) stationed at the Naval Education Training Command (NETC) in San Antonio, Zambales following his completion of his Command and General Staff Course (CGSC) studies at Camp Aguinaldo.
Was it a simple case of being at the wrong place and in the wrong company for Marcelino? He has yet to present a mission order to prove that he was on an undercover operation there.
Was it a complicated turf war between Marcelino and the present occupants at PDEA?
Are there unseen hands and big, dirty drug money behind an effort to bust a serious drug buster?
The illegal drugs industry has been estimated at P8 billion a year, and growing. Despite several raids in drug laboratories in recent years, and the arrest mostly of Chinese nationals, the business continues to flourish. It seems that the syndicates are just moving from one place to another. It is possible that they would not mind spending some extra cash to eliminate whoever gets in the way of their lucrative business.
Marcelino first hogged the headlines on Sept. 19, 2008 when he led a team of undercover agents in arresting the so-called “Alabang Boys” –Joseph Tecson, Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph – for alleged drug possession and sale during buy-bust operations.
The three fell one after another for possession and sale of 60 Ecstasy tablets, packets of marijuana and sachets of cocaine.
The agents arrested Brodett and Joseph in Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa City, while Tecson fell in a follow-up operation at the Araneta Center in Quezon City.
About three months later on Dec. 2, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the case against the “Alabang Boys” for lack of probable cause.
Marcelino later cried foul and exposed alleged bribery in which “P50 million changed hands” for the release of the “Alabang Boys “from police custody.
He said the first bribery attempt was made on the day of the arrest, with P3 million directly offered to him by people close to the group.
Then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the DOJ to require “all officials and prosecutors” accused of receiving bribes to take a leave of absence.
But the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) failed to find “convincing evidence” to support Marcelino’s accusation of bribery.
Marcelino’s arrest brought to mind a case involving agents from the PNP Anti-illegal Drug Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF) in a raid in Valenzuela City in 2014 where six kilograms of shabu valued at P30 million, other chemicals and equipment used to produce the illegal substance were seized.
Police said the equipment could produce 15 to 20 kilos of shabu each day. How did they know that? They asked the suspects to “cook” for one day, and then conducted a “raid” with media coverage the day after.
A source privy to the case said the pieces of evidence presented consisted only of six kilos of processed shabu, other chemicals and some of the equipment that were confiscated from the apartment that served as laboratory.
Where were the rest? Members of the raiding team should know.
For as long as drug syndicates enjoy protection from corrupt law enforcers and men in judicial robes, the campaign against illegal drugs will not succeed.