Ombudsman orders Aquino indictment
Former President Benigno Aquino III was ordered criminally indicted on Friday and could face imprisonment if convicted in connection with the botched Mamasapano raid that left 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos dead in one of the biggest crises that hit his administration.
In a resolution on Friday, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales held Aquino and two other former police officials criminally liable for what had become infamously known as the Jan. 25, 2015, “Mamasapano Massacre.”
Morales, who administered Aquino’s oath of office and was appointed by him as chief antigraft prosecutor after she retired from the Supreme Court, named former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and sacked SAF commander Getulio Napeñas as Aquino’s “coconspirators” in charges of usurpation of authority and violation of the antigraft law.
The graft charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and four years for usurpation.
“There is no gainsaying that President Aquino was fully aware that the Office of the Ombudsman had placed Purisima under preventive suspension at that time,” Morales said, referring to her order to suspend the former PNP chief over an anomalous gun license delivery deal.
She said text messages between Aquino and Purisima, which were disclosed during a Senate investigation, showed that the “suspended police chief played a major role in the botched operation.”
She said Purisima usurped authority by playing an active role “to the point that he was exercising a degree of authority and discretion over Napeñas and consequently, over the operation” in Mamasapano.
Morales said Aquino was complicit in Purisima’s usurpation when the former President “assented to or at the very least failed to prevent Purisima” from getting involved in the operation.
The law says a suspended public officer “is barred from performing any public functions and from meddling into the affairs of the government.” Purisima would not have been involved “were it not for the complicity and influence of President Aquino,” Morales said.
According to Morales, usurpation of authority is “committed by any person who shall knowingly and falsely represent himself to be an officer, agent or representative of any department or agency of the Philippine government” and unlawfully performing functions of that official.
Morales said Aquino violated a provision of the antigraft law prohibiting any public officer from inducing or influencing another to perform an act that violated duly promulgated rules and regulations.
The Ombudsman, however, dismissed a complaint of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas, saying the deaths of the commandos were caused by “the intentional act of shooting by the hostile forces” beyond their control.
The mission to arrest two militants went disastrously wrong when SAF commandos were ambushed and outnumbered by rebel gunmen.
The commandos killed one of the militants, top Malaysian terror suspect and bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan. But the brutal deaths sparked public outrage.
The fallout from the carnage, which also left 20 Moro fighters dead, included the refusal by Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law which would have crowned Aquino’s efforts to bring lasting peace to rebellion-torn Mindanao.
Senate Majority Leader Franklin Drilon said he respected but disagreed with the Ombudsman’s decision to indict Aquino, his party mate.
He said in a statement that the Senate committee on public order did not find Aquino criminally liable.
Merlyn Gamutan, widow of SAF Senior Insp. Joey Gamutan, said she wanted the charges pursued against Aquino and his coaccused “until they are jailed.”
“They should pay for his negligence,” she told the Inquirer. “Our husbands would still be alive if not for their negligence.”
Aquino’s spokesperson Abigail Valte said he and his lawyers were studying the Ombudsman’s order “with the end view of filing a motion for reconsideration.”
“An initial reading shows that there may have been a misappreciation of some facts surrounding the incident, leading to some erroneous conclusions,” Valte said.
In a statement, President Duterte’s spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Malacañang respected the Ombudsman’s decision.
“The President 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,” Abella said.
Morales issued her resolution against Aquino a day after she appeared in the television show “Direct Talk” on Japan’s NHK World, in which she spoke about the dangers of “blind loyalty” to an official who appoints another to a government position.
“Some people believe that gratitude is a virtue,” she said. “So you are appointed by a particular person and so you believe that you owe it to him that you are appointed and so you are loyal to him. There’s this blind loyalty irrespective of whether the appointive power is right or wrong.”
Liberal Party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the party “stands by former President Aquino in his lifelong 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.”
He said he believed Aquino could defend his actions and trusted that the Ombudsman would act “with fairness and credibility.” —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKO DIZON, PHILIP C. TUBEZA, JOCELYN R. UY, THE WIRES
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