Sandiganbayan defers ruling on case vs Aquino
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division will not decide on the motion of Ombudsman Samuel Martires to withdraw usurpation and graft charges against former President Benigno Aquino III until the Supreme Court lifts its temporary restraining order (TRO).
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales earlier found probable cause to charge Aquino with usurpation of powers and graft over the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force in the botched 2015 Mamasapano operation. But sitting Ombudsman Martires last week moved to withdraw the case.
During Friday’s hearing on Martires’ motion to withdraw, the current Ombudsman said there was no usurpation since Aquino was President at the time of the incident.
“No President of the Republic of the Philippines must be accused of usurpation of power while in office. Anyone who claims otherwise should go back to college,” Martires said in open court.
After the hearing, Martires explained that they moved to withdraw the case information filed by his predecessor since Aquino’s actions during the Mamasapano incident were well within his powers.
“He can anytime take over the functions of the secretary of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), he can anytime take over the functions of the chief PNP (Philippine National Police), there is no usurpation there,” Martires said.
Usurpation is defined in the Revised Penal Code as any act of any person in authority or public officer of the government without being lawfully entitled to do so.
But while Martires argued that the case information against Aquino should be withdrawn, the antigraft court’s Fourth Division said it could not decide on the motion until the high court lifts its TRO.
The high court last year issued a TRO stopping the trial based on the insistence of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), backed by a manifestation from the Office of the Solicitor General.
VACC argued in their petition for certiorari that Aquino should face a more serious charge, such as homicide, in connection with the massacre.
VACC legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio said their camp still planned to file homicide cases against Aquino after the high court lifts the TRO.
“Nothing can prevent us from refiling, but we will wait for the decision of the SC, out of respect,” Topacio said, adding that at the stage of preliminary investigation, there is no double jeopardy.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.