A RANKING Marine officer and a Chinese national were arrested after government agents raided a clandestine drug laboratory in a townhouse in Manila past midnight Thursday.
Marine Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, a former officer of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, was arrested along with Yan Yi Shou, 33, when PDEA agents and police barged into the drug laboratory at Felix Huertas and Batangas streets in Sta. Cruz, Manila at about 12:30 a.m.
At least 64 kilos of shabu or methamphetamine placed in four rectangular plastic bags with an estimated street value of P320 million, assorted chemicals, a beige Toyota Camry and other equipment were seized during the raid on the strength of a search warrant issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
Shou was said to have served as an interpreter for the PDEA in 2005.
The raid on the drug laboratory came after months of surveillance. Authorities said they placed an undercover agent pretending to be a helper.
PDEA chief Arturo Cacdac said they were surprised to find Marcelino in the drug laboratory because he was not on their radar.
Chief Insp. Roque Merdegia, a spokesman of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group of the Philippine National Police said Marcelino would be charged with the illegal manufacture of drugs.
Merdegia said the operation started in November when they were tipped off about a storage facility inside a posh subdivision in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Later, they established that this was at the Celadon Residences.
“We were able to secure a search warrant for it on Saturday but our operatives have been continuously monitoring the activity inside in the hope of arresting some people,” Merdegia said.
Marcelino told reporters he was in the drug laboratory doing surveillance work when the PDEA agents raided the townhouse, but he was unable to show documents to prove his claim.
Shortly after his arrest, Marcelino was taken to Camp Crame, then to the PDEA central office.
Marcelino used to head the PDEA’s Special Enforcement Service under Dionisio Santiago, and was instrumental in the arrest of the Alabang Boys in a buy-bust operation in September 2008.
He was eventually axed from PDEA on allegations he planted evidence on one of the suspects during a drug bust and was reverted back to his unit and later reassigned to the Naval Education Training Command in San Antonio, Zambales.
Marcelino said he is currently assigned at the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento denied the claim.
“I talked with CS [AFP chief of staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri] and he told me that he [Marcelino] has no authority to conduct special anti-drugs operations,” Sarmiento said.
Cacdac said Marcelino was a suspect but they have yet to prove if the officer personally knew the arrested Chinese national.
Marcelino denied his involvement in illegal drug trafficking.
“I’m not hiding anything. I’ve done no wrong,” he said in Filipino.
Some military officers including Marcelino’s classmates could not believe he was into drug trafficking, saying it was ironic that he stands accused for a crime he fought.
“Marcelino was passionately combating drug syndicates even after his stint at PDEA,” said one of his classmates who asked that he not be named.
He said it was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa who tapped Marcelino to help the government track big drug syndicates.
“It’s a legitimate project. It’s an intelligence project. We were there to verify information,” Marcelino told reporters, adding that he could not imagine why the PDEA treated him as a suspect.
“They accused me so it is my right to tell my side. Why are they trying to stop me from explaining?” he said, referring to the PDEA.
Former PDEA director general Dionisio Santiago said he too was surprised by what happened to Marcelino.
Santiago also confirmed in a phone interview that Marcelino was still working with the government, and that he had been the one to brief President Benigno Aquino III about an anti-drug operation in his hometown of Tarlac.
In that operation, the National Bureau of Investigation raided a shabu laboratory in Camiling, Tarlac, arrested six Chinese nationals and seized P3 billion worth of shabu.
“Marcelino was the one who developed the intel for that particular operation,” Santiago said.
In that operation, Marcelino gave that credit to the NBI, reportedly to the dismay of Cacdac. Marcelino’s name never surfaced in that operation because he was no longer assigned with the PDEA.
Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said Marcelino has just been appointed superintendent of the Navy Officer Candidate School and was stationed at the Naval Education Training Command in Zambales.
“He was seen at around 7 p.m. at the NETC. The chief of staff of the NETC told me he just received a text from Marcelino at around 7 a.m. today [Thursday] notifying him that he [Marcelino] went to Manila early morning because one of their agents has been arrested by PDEA and they are implicating me in a syndicate and made pronouncements in the media about it’,” Arevalo said.
Cacdac said that since Marcelino is still being considered a suspect they will withhold issuing further statements about his possible involvement until the investigation is finished.
A senior military officer who knew Marcelino said on condition of anonymity that the Marine officer could have been framed.
“He coordinated with a PDEA staff officer about his intent to conduct surveillance with the asset. Unknowingly, a special project group directly controlled by Cacdac was also tailing the informant and carried out the raid at the same time that he got in. So, he was present during the raid and was apprehended. Cacdac wants to present him as his ‘accomplishment,’” he said.
Another former classmate said Marcelino’s daughter had been abducted by a drug syndicate when he was at the PDEA, which gave him the impetus to move against the illegal drug trade.
“He is a very principled person and has maintained a modest lifestyle,” another classmate said.
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