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Oplan Exodus last year, Oplan Moses this year

I haven’t heard such a case even in the most imaginative crime movie or novel. Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency operatives surveil an apartment for days, based on information that it is a shabu factory or at least a stockroom for the ingredients to manufacture it. Near to giving up that no one is going to the apartment—and therefore no drug operator will be caught—two men enter it, with a key which is what you have if you own or rent an apartment.

The man with the key turns out to be Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, and his companion was a Chinese national Yan Yi Shou, who used to be a PDEA interpreter. Found in the apartment which Marcelino opened with his key were ingredients and equipment for manufacturing 76 kilos of shabu, which the PDEA claimed was worth P383 million (where do they get those precise figures?).

Marcelino claimed he is on a top-secret mission under the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He is caught on camera in near tears, saying melodramatic things, that “this is the price I pay for loving my country.” He even hinted he was being framed by shadowy drug lords, as he has been effective in pursuing them. “Rest assured that I will never betray this nation,” he said as if he was captured by foreign operatives, and not by a Filipino anti-illegal drug unit.

He even announced to the whole world the code name for his secret mission, “Oplan Exodus.” Familiar-sounding name? Read on.

What is strange is that the ISAFP and the military top brass haven’t expressed the kind of support — and even outrage at his treatment like a common criminal — one would expect them to do to defend their own, a “mistah” even, especially one who claims he has the passion to serve the country yet whom the PDEA seems intent on prosecuting on illegal-drug charges that carry life-sentence penalties.

The ISAFP chief himself, Maj. Gen. Arnold Quiapo, sounded as if he were denying Marcelino’s claims, saying the officer is no longer connected with his unit. As if an ISAFP is a unit of another armed forces, he merely told reporters: “Ask the Navy as he was assigned to the Philippine Navy Officer’s Candidate School.”

AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri on the other hand reportedly told Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento that he has not authorized Marcelino to conduct anti-drug operations.

It wasn’t the ISAFP, but merely a letter by one Lt. Col. Marlo Guloy claiming to be Group Commander of “Army Intelligence Service Group” which vouched for Marcelino — but only to a very limited extent. In his letter Jan. 22 he wrote:

Crying colonels, laughing bosses: Left above, Col. Napeñas who led Oplan Exodus January last year. Right, above: Col. Marcelino who led, according to him, Oplan Moses. Below allegedly their bosses.
Crying colonels, laughing bosses: Left above, Col. Napeñas who led Oplan Exodus January last year. Right, above: Col. Marcelino who led, according to him, Oplan Moses. Below allegedly their bosses.

“This is to certify that LTC Ferdinand Marcelino has shared intelligence information to this unit from November to December 2015 with regards to suspected Philippine Army personnel engaged in the use of drugs and other illegal drug activities in consonance to the GHO Directive on AFP Task Force Moses and PA Task Group Midas.” For a case that involves a life sentence for Col. Marcelino, Guloy ended his certification in the bureaucratic manner. “This certification is being issued for whatever legal purpose it may serve.” (Emphasis mine)

It was obviously not enough to confirm Marcelino’s claims of high-level anti-drug operations. First, he merely “shared intelligence information,” which any gossip could claim he does. It didn’t say Marcelino was assigned to undertake secret operations against drug lords.

Secondly, and quite suspiciously, the letter in effect said that the unit’s relationship with Marcelino was only for two months, November and December 2015. So obviously, his arrest by the PDEA on January 22 was not while he was undertaking a mission ordered by the Army Intelligence Group or any other military unit.

But is Guloy really the commander of the Army Intelligence Service Group? I could not find any announcement that he was appointed to that post. His only recent published appointment was in 2013 as commander of the 46th Infantry Battalion of the 8th Infantry Division, based in Maguindanao. Guloy must be an interesting or a tragic officer. The last time he was in the news was when he was court-martialed for allegedly molesting a Philippine Military Academy classmate’s wife in 2008. He was acquitted though in 2010.

Oplans Exodus and Moses
What’s going on? Cliché it is, but still no phrase can describe this very stupid state of affairs: “Only in the Philippines.” Can you imagine the US Drug Enforcement Agency capturing a US Marine colonel in a shabu factory?

In the first place, what was a Marine colonel doing in an operation that is entirely a police matter, and even the field of work of a specialized agency, PDEA? Doesn’t the Marine Corps have enough Islamic and NPA terrorists to pursue and terminate?

I had always thought that Marine Corps anywhere in the world are trained for the harshest form of open warfare, as in amphibious behind-the-lines assaults or jungle operations versus guerillas. But Marcelino, it seems, was operating almost entirely in the city, where his specialized warfare training is totally useless.

Ever since President Aquino assumed office, it’s been a topsy-turvy world indeed. There was an operation that went deep into the guerrilla zones of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other breakaway Islamic gangs to terminate two international terrorists on January 25 last year.

It was called “Oplan Exodus”, and it wasn’t the Marines nor the Army Special Forces that got engaged in positional warfare, but police commandos, who were massacred after their ammunition ran out and the Army and Marines refused to rescue them, allegedly upon Aquino’s “stand-down” orders.

Now its “Oplan Moses”, and I don’t need to be a biblical scholar to tell you with authority that it was Moses who led the Exodus, so that it’s quite a coincidence for these two oplans to be code-named with related words.

This time, what is supposed to be an operation against the biggest drug lords, and therefore by the police and the PDEA, is being undertaken — or led — by a Marine colonel.

If Marcelino’s claims are accurate, the PDEA and the Philippine National Police weren’t aware of his intelligence operations. In the case of Oplan Exodus, it was the Army and Marines who weren’t informed of the police operations.

Is this another cockamamie scheme of this stupid, desperate president to play general and attempt to lead a big illegal-drug operation, without informing the institutions authorized to undertake such operations?

Indeed, former PDEA Director Dionisio Santiago, a former AFP chief of staff, had reported on the day of Marcelino’s arrest that the Marine colonel had directly reported, as an operative of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission last year, to Executive Secretary and PAOC chairman Paquito Ochoa. “Sometimes, Colonel Marcelino also reported directly to President Aquino himself,” Santiago said.

PAOCC Executive Director General Reginald Villasanta, however, issued a statement that Marcelino “is not and has never been an operative detailed to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission.” So he’s saying the former AFP chief of staff was lying.