THE Office of the Ombudsman has found basis to file charges against former president Benigno Aquino 3rd in connection with the deaths of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano in Maguindanao in 2015.
In a statement on Friday, the Ombudsman also cited as Aquino’s co-respondents former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and former PNP Special Action Force (SAF) head Getulio Napeñas.
The Ombudsman said it was levelling charges of graft and usurpation of authority against Aquino and the two police officials before the Sandiganbayan.
In December 2014, the Ombudsman ordered the six-month preventive suspension of Purisima amid an investigation into the alleged anomalous courier deal forged by the PNP with Werfast Documentation Agency Inc. in 2011. The PNP terminated the deal in March 2014.
Despite the suspension, Aquino relied on Purisima, a trusted aide, to plan and enforce “Oplan Exodus,” which sought the arrest of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in Mamasapano by members of the PNP-SAF.
Marwan, who was killed in the botched January 2015 raid, carried a $5-million bounty from the US government. An ensuing gunbattle with Muslim insurgents resulted in the deaths of 60 people, including 44 police commandos.
The Ombudsman said Aquino conspired with Purisima and Napeñas in violation of Section 3(a) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code pertaining to usurpation of authority.
“[C]ertainly a public officer who is under preventive suspension in barred from performing any public functions and from meddling into the affairs of the government. In other words, Purisima would not have been placed in such a position of continuing to conduct himself, in relation to Oplan Exodus, in a manner as if he was not under preventive suspension at that time, from his position as PNP chief, were it not for the complicity and influence of [then-]President Aquino.”
In a 35-page consolidated resolution approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Friday, the anti-graft office dismissed for lack of probable cause the complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide.
It argued that the “proximate cause of death” was the “intentional act of shooting by hostile forces” that included members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups.”
The Ombudsman resolved three separate complaints filed by Erlinda Allaga, Warlito Mejia, and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption; Celestino Kiangan, Julie Danao, Felicitas Nacino; and Telly Sumbilla, Helen Ramacula, and Lorna Sagonoy.
Aquino to seek reconsideration
The former president will ask the Ombudsman, whom he appointed to the office in 2011, to reconsider, said his spokesman, Abigail Valte.
“Former President Benigno Aquino 3rd received the order of the Ombudsman this afternoon and is currently studying it with his lawyers, with the end view of filing a motion for reconsideration,” Valte said.
“An initial reading shows that there may have been a misappreciation of some facts surrounding the incident, leading to some erroneous conclusions. He will seek to clarify the same through a motion for reconsideration,” she added.
Aquino had argued in his counter-affidavit that Purisima “was a resource person providing vital information.”
But the Ombudsman said that the record of text messages did not jibe with the former president’s statement that he merely used Purisima as a resource person for the police operation.
“The fact remains that, at the time, particularly before and during the actual implementation of Oplan Exodus, Purisima was under preventive suspension, and that Purisima, despite being under preventive suspension, indeed played an active role in Oplan Exodus, as shown by all the record of [text]exchanges and findings in the Senate Committee Report on the Mamasapano incident, to the point that he was exercising a degree of authority and discretion over Napeñas and, consequently, over the operation,” the Ombudsman said.
Liberals stand by Aquino
Members of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party (LP) on Friday said Aquino would be able to defend his actions in the Mamasapano incident.
“The Liberal party stands by President Aquino as well as his life-long commitment to the peace process in Mindanao and see his actions in relation to Mamasapano as imperatives in good faith to advance the cause of justice and peace in Mindanao,” Pangilinan added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon insisted on the findings of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs finding Aquino not criminally liable.
Drilon said the committee only recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Purisma for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, as well as indirect contempt.
It also recommended the filing of administrative charges against former PNP-SAF chief Napeñas for grave misconduct, inefficiency and incompetence.
Malacañang said it respected the Ombudsman’s recommendation.
“[President Rodrigo Duterte] recognizes the heroic sacrifice of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force 44, and it is his – and the nation’s – hope to finally bring justice to the victims and families of the Fallen 44 and put closure to the issue as part of the healing process,” said Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA