By Julius N. Leonen,
Angie M. Rosales
and Mario J. Mallari
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday raised the possibility that Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino may serve as an additional witness in the illegal drug trading charges filed by the government against Sen. Leila de Lima before the Muntinlupa City courts.
“He is a possible witness,” Aguirre said in a text message when asked whether Marcelino, who was recently released from detention after the Department of Justice (DoJ) dropped the illegal drug case filed against him and his Chinese companion, may be used as a witness against the embattled senator.
According to him, among the accounts Marcelino may testify before the Muntinlupa courts is his conversation with de Lima when she visited him at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center where he was detained for possession ofdangerous drugs in connection with the raid in a shabu laboratory in Sta. Cruz, Manila on Jan. 21, 2016.
Marcelino said he and the lawmaker discussed the “possible infiltration of the drug syndicate in the political leadership” and the dismantling of the biggest shabu laboratory in the country.
In 2014, during former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration and de Lima’s term as Justice secretary, authorities have exposed the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) narcotics trade following a series of raids under “Oplan Galugad.”
Marcelino also recalled the senator as telling him that the former president was not involved in the illegal drug trade.
He added de Lima’s statement on Aquino caught him off guard as he allegedly did not mention the former president’s name nor alluded to him at the time.
“Marcelino could testify about his conversation with de Lima. He was stunned during the conversation, wasn’t he,” Aguirre stressed, noting that Marcelino bared that he was surprised why the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) had been left out from Oplan Galugad at the NBP as the original plan was to include military intelligence operatives to conduct forensic tests on the contraband seized in the operation.
Aguirre, however, also stressed he has no intention of launching another investigation into the matter. “I’m not going to assign a prosecutor to investigate this. I have no intention of doing so. But what I am seeing is that he could testify as an additional witness,” he said.
“I’m going to look into it. We have already conducted the investigation, and it is not in relation to his being made a witness,” the Justice chief added.
Aguirre said he will leave it up to Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta, who served as Marcelino’s legal counsel in his illegal drug case, whether the The former PDEA intelligence official will testify against de Lima.
“I’ll leave it up to them. (Atty. Acosta) is his lawyer, so if they could use him as a witness, then we’ll do that,” Aguirre added.
In a text message, Acosta said that the panel of prosecutors handling De Lima’s drug trafficking cases before three Muntinlupa RTC branches will look into the possibility of Marcelino serving as an additional witness.
De Lima and seven others were indicted for alleged violation of Section 5 (sale), in relation to Section 3 (jj trading) and Section 26 (b), and Section 28 of the Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
But for de Lima, it did not come as a surprise to learn of Marcelino now poised to testify against her even as he initially refused.
“A deal has been struck for him to also testify against me. I thought he was a man of honor. I hope I’m wrong that despite the pressure he won’t let himself be used,” de Lima said.
“I am not sure about the kind of pressure bearing upon Marcelino now. Last year, he refused to testify against me in the House Bilibid drug trade hearings, on account of the dishonor of bearing false witness against innocent person. Almost one year is about to pass since then and I can only speculate as to the reasons behind his turnaround,” the detained senator in a separate statement noted.
“I think Marcelino still has honor and whatever lies he is forced to tell are not easy for him to declare, if not for some overwhelming pressure or threat coming from the tyrant and his minions,” de Lima said, apparently referring to President Rodrigo Duterte and allies who have accused her of being involved in the illegal drugs trade inside the NBP.
De Lima was told that as soon as Marcelino was arrested, the government, through Acosta, was allegedly demanded to implicate the senator in the illegal drugs trade inside NBP in exchange for his freedom.
“Marcelino refused,” she said.
The detained senator said she could attest to the credibility and integrity of Marcelino as an anti-drug operative having worked with him in the past when she was still at the helm of the DoJ.
“He was probably one of the best among the government’s anti-narcotics agents. Several major drug busts that were carried out by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) under my supervision relied on information and advice given by Marcelino in the course of our inter-agency coordination,” she recalled.
The Philippine National Police-Drug Enforcement Group (PNP-DEG) is disappointed over the dismissal of the drug case against Marcelino, maintaining it has a strong case against the Marine officer and his Chinese companion.
Supt. Enrico Rigor, spokesman of the PNP-DEG, yesterday said DEG personnel were shocked over the decision by the DoJ to withdraw the case against Marcelino and Yan Yi Shou.