The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the filing of criminal charges against former Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III over his alleged role in the botched Mamasapano operation that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos two years ago.
In a resolution on consolidated complaints filed by the victims’ families and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, on Friday, July 14, indicted Aquino for the usurpation of authority under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.
She also ordered the filing of charges against Aquino for violating the Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, or Republic Act (RA) No. 3019.
Cited as Aquino’s co-respondents were former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima and former PNP-Special Action Force (SAF) head Getulio Napeñas.
The Ombudsman, however, dismissed the “complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide” against Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas due to “lack of probable cause.”
On January 25, 2015, the SAF troopers successfully killed Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as Marwan, during a raid dubbed as “Oplan Exodus” in the southern Philippines where various separatist rebel groups are based.
The elite soldiers, however, were ambushed by insurgent groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
While Aquino was cleared of homicide charges, the Ombudsman said he should still be held liable for allowing then-suspended Purisima to play a major role in the operation.
Morales then cited a record of text messages between Aquino and Purisima discussing the operation, which was included among the findings in a Senate Committee Report on the Mamasapano incident.
The exchanges, she said, showed that “Purisima, despite being under preventive suspension, indeed played an active role in Oplan Exodus… to the point that he was exercising a degree of authority and discretion over Napeñas and consequently, over the operation.”
“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 pointed out.
She took note that any public officer under preventive suspension is “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,” Morales added.
Section 3(a) of RA 3019 states that it is unlawful for any public officer to persuade, induce or influence another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority.
Usurpation of authority, on the other hand, is committed when a person falsely represents himself as a government official or performs any act pertaining to any person in authority without being lawfully entitled to do so.
‘Misappreciation of some facts’
In a statement, Aquino’s camp said it would appeal to the Ombudsman to reconsider its decision.
Aquino’s spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said there may have been “misappreciation of some facts” in connection with the Mamasapano tragedy that led to the Ombudsman’s decision.
The former president already received the Ombudsman’s order and “is currently studying it with his lawyers, with the end view of filing a motion for reconsideration,” she said.
Palace welcomes decision
In a statement, Malacañang said it respected the Ombudsman’s decision to indict Aquino and other officials in connection with the Mamasapano tragedy.
“We respect the Ombudsman’s constitutional mandate to investigate public officials,” Presidential Spokesperson Abella said.
Recognizing the “heroic sacrifices” of the fallen police commandos, Malacañang added that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte also hopes to finally bring justice to the victims and their families.
“The President (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,” Abella said.