THE Sandiganbayan’s Third Division on Friday, December 1 has approved the prosecution’s motion to consolidate the graft and usurpation cases of former Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino with other similar cases at the court’s Fourth Division.
This paved the way for joint proceedings against Aquino, and three other former officials facing similar cases: former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima, and former PNP Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas.
The former president’s camp did not oppose the consolidation of the cases.
“The accused will no longer comment and instead submit the matter for resolution,” said lawyer Joseph De Jesus, Aquino’s lawyer.
Last November 23, the Office of the Ombudsman filed a motion asking the Third Division to allow the transfer of the cases against Aquino to the court’s Fourth Division.
The cases against Aquino were initially raffled on November 10 to the anti-graft court’s Third Division, which is chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang. The Third Division said it found probable cause to put Aquino on trial.
But as Tang was Aquino’s appointee, the justice’s partiality was inevitably questioned. She, however, assured then that her division would be fair in handling the cases against Aquino and that the latter “will never influence whatever action that the court will take in the case.”
Other members of the Third Division are Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez, another Aquino appointee, and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez, who is President Rodrigo Duterte’s first appointee to the Sandiganbayan.
The Fourth Division, meanwhile, is chaired by Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Its other members are Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz, an Aquino appointee, and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto, who was appointed by Duterte.
Aquino posted bail on the same day his cases were raffled to the Third Division. The Office of the Ombudsman earlier recommended bail at P40,000 or P30,000 for one count of graft and P10,000 for one count of usurpation of authority.
The cases against the former president stemmed from his alleged act of allowing then-suspended Purisima to participate in the planning and implementation of the botched “Oplan Exodus,” an operation that led to the deaths of 44 SAF operatives in 2015 in Mindanao.
Purisima and Napeñas were indicted in January, while Aquino was charged in court in November.