The Marine who said ‘No’

This article was first published on January 18, 2009. We are re-posting this as Lt. Col Ferdinand Marcelino is again in the news after he was arrested in a drug bust operation last Jan. 21. Marcelino says his presence in the shabu den was a legal operation. His lawyer said s say it was a “frameup.”


THE soldier who stirred a hornet’s nest by accusing Department of Justice officials of bribery in the so-called “Alabang Boys” case could have been a millionaire by now.

Marine Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, chief of the Special Enforcement Service of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, has experienced being bribed by smugglers, politicians and drug dealers in his 14-year career as a military officer.

But Marcelino, who belongs to the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1994, said he has made it a point to give back the thick envelopes stuffed with cash, and was not even curious enough to count the money and see how much he is worth.

The 11th of 13 children of a poor family in Bulacan, Marcelino made it through school only through scholarships, and by working as a campus journalist and a reporter for the tabloid Headline Manila in the late 1980s. He entered the PMA because that was the only way he could get a free college education.

Marcelino has taken part in the most dangerous assignments—making sure elections take place in the farthest and deadliest towns of Sulu, rescuing kidnap victim Jeffrey Schilling and the Dos Palmas hostages, pursuing the Abu Sayyaff, peacekeeping in East Timor, running after illegal loggers in Palawan—and even experienced being held captive by the Moro National Liberation Front in Sulu.

But he said he has never thought of taking money that could have compensated for the risks he has taken.

Then Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, chief of Special Enforcement Services of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in an interview with VERA Files.
Then Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, chief of Special Enforcement Services of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in an interview with VERA Files.

As a young lieutenant assigned in Pangutaran, Sulu in 1996, he experienced being given money representing the “share of the Marines” for them to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of goods, including noodles, from Malaysia rampant on the island. The envelope containing the money was first handed to him by the police chief and later by a town councilor. He turned down the bribe.

In 1998, Marcelino and his fellow soldiers were assigned to Panamao town in Sulu to make sure elections took place. That meant he had to go up against the mayor who wanted elections confined to his strongholds in the town center, and offered him money and cattle not to deliver ballot boxes in the outlying barangay.

He refused both cattle and money, angering the mayor who not only got his private army fire mortars at Marcelino’s detachment, but offered P800,000 and an M-14 rifle to anyone who would kill the young Marine officer.   A child was killed instantly and 11 others were injured when the nearby health center was hit by mortar fire.

Whenever confronted with bribe offers, Marcelino said he always remembers his father’s advice, “Kung ano ang pinakain mo sa anak mo, ganoon din ang kalalakihan niya (You are what you eat).”

He also keeps in mind the PMA honor code that a cadet “does not lie, cheat and steal and tolerate those who do.”

The “Alabang Boys” controversy has thrust Marcelino in the limelight after he disclosed that state prosecutors were offered a P50 million bribe to drop the charges against Richard Brodett, Jorge Joseph and Joseph Tecson who were caught last September by PDEA operatives with a spread of Ecstasy and other drugs.  He also reported that he was offered a P3 million bribe, which later went up to P20 million, to settle the case.

At work, Marcelino said he is oblivious to the overwhelming public support for him in the conflict with the DOJ. But he has felt that his “world has become smaller.”

He related an incident in a San Juan restaurant a week ago when an old man he did not know seated at another table paid for their bill. When he thanked him for it, the old man said, “This is just my way of thanking you for what you are doing for the country.”

“Kinilabutan ako (It gave me goose bumps),” he said.

While Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez mulls how to teach the young military officer who dared talk back to him in a televised congressional hearing a lesson, Marcelino said he will continue doing what he believes is right, guided by the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”