Often missed in the probe on the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) mess is the role of a contingent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence in the aborted Oplan “Cronus,” which should have nipped in the bud the shabu delivery network that operates within the national penitentiary.
The key AFP figure in the controversial raid was Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, who was a member of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and who mysteriously became the victim of a dragnet after Oplan “Cronus” was aborted. It was Marcelino who was charged of involvement in drugs operations afterwards.
Former Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief Benjamin Magalong’s testimony in the ongoing probe on the NBP scandal indicated that key personalities during the term of detained Sen. Leila de Lima as Department of Justice (DoJ) secretary would have been implicated had the joint police and military operations pulled through.
Marcelino said he even personally gave a briefing to De Lima and that several meetings were held by officials from PDEA, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), CIDG and DoJ prior to the operation.
“In fact, we already have targets or identified personalities who are confirmed to be involved in illegal drugs and the ‘kubol’ controversy. The intelligence information includes Jaybee Sebastian, Peter Co, Vicente Sy and Herbert Colanggo, among others,” Marcelino noted.
Disagreements among members of the interagency task force led Marcelino to believe that the raid was aborted, but he said he was surprised when the DoJ still pushed through with the raid on 15 December 2014, this time led by De Lima.
“The ISAFP was excluded in the raid and the ensuing investigation even though the original plan was for ISAFP to conduct forensic examination on the contraband including cellphones,” Marcelino said.
Marcelino should hold the key on the ringleaders in the NBP drugs factory who are higher than De Lima.
Former DoJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre had related that Marcelino recounted to him that the biggest shabu laboratory raided when he was part of the anti-narcotics agency was in Tarlac when the PDEA head was Gen. (Arturo) Cacdac. The Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission was also then headed by Gen. Reginald Villasanta who was one of two members of the NBP raiding team led by De Lima.
Also, the representative of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, who had then Mar Roxas as secretary, was former Philippine National Police deputy director Gen. Marcelo Garbo. Garbo was pinpointed in the drug matrix of President Rodrigo Duterte as the top narco general.
Magalong said Villasanta, Garbo and then Bureau of Corrections chief Franklin Bucayu were classmates at the Philippine Military Academy, and they were not part of the original group that planned Oplan “Cronus.”
Magalong said the oplan was supposed to isolate drug lords operating in NBP.
Aguirre and the inmates who testified in a House inquiry on the NBP drugs operations, however, said the raid was meant to ease out the competition to allow Sebastian, favored by De Lima, to control the multibillion drug trade in the NBP.
“We had several top-level meetings and I even volunteered to then Secretary De Lima to be the ground commander, and all she could tell me was, ‘You just wait, Benjie,’” Magalong recounted.
He said it was Bucayu who told him the CIDG and PDEA were no longer part of the operation.
The Senate probe is unearthing more clues that may lead to a bigger scandal that may involve the apex of government in the previous regime.
Those responsible should ready themselves to account for their past misdeeds.