The Philippine Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Sandiganbayan to suspend the hearings on the case against former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his executives in connection with the botched 2015 Mamasapano operation.
The SC First Division released a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Friday, February 9, stopping the anti-graft court from proceeding with the arraignment of Aquino, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima, and former Special Action Force (SAF) Chief Getulio Napeñas Jr.
The three former officials’ arraignment on the graft and usurpation of official function case was initially set for February 15.
In addition to suspending the legal proceedings, the high court also halted the implementation of resolutions that dismissed the reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide charges against the three officials.
The Office of the Ombudsman had junked the charge of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas when it filed the case before the Sandiganbayan last year.
The case against Aquino and his executives stemmed from the bloody operation in January 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted to deaths of over 60 people, including 44 members of the PNP-SAF.
Solicitor General Jose Calida welcomed the high court’s order.
“I commend the Supreme Court for granting the TRO and upholding the sacred duty of the State to prosecute crimes. This is the first step to hold those responsible for the senseless killing of the SAF44,” Calida wrote on Twitter.
In January 25, Calida filed a manifestation before the SC supporting an earlier petition filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and families of the SAF44’s. The petition asked Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas to be charged with homicide instead of graft and usurpation.
Malacañang, for its part, said it respects the SC’s decision.
“We respect that Order of the SC noting that prosecution of case is handled by the Special Prosecutor of the OMB (Ombudsman),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Aquino’s spokesperson Abigail Valte, said the former president is “quite confident that he can ably argue his case before the Supreme Court if called to do so.”
“It’s a good development for the petitioners because they wanted to stop the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan. The former president made a similar motion before the Sandiganbayan to just ask for time until his motion to quash is resolved,” Valte said.
Prior to the release of the TRO, Aquino filed a manifestation before the SC, asking it to suspend the hearings and resolve first his earlier motion to nullify the charges against him.