Former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III charged before the Sandiganbayan

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales (left) and former PH President Benigno Simeon Aquino III Images ©

FOUR months after anti-graft prosecutors found probable cause, the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday finally filed graft and criminal charges against former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III before the Sandiganbayan in connection with his alleged questionable role in an anti-terrorist operation that led to the massacre of 44 elite policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.

Specifically, Aquino will be facing one count each of violation of Section 3(a) of Republic Act 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code (Usurpation of Authority).

Section 3(a) of RA. No. 3019 states that “it shall be 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 or an offense in connection with the official duties of the latter, or allowing himself to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit such violation or offense.”

Article 177 of the RPC said 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, or who, under pretense of official position, shall perform any act pertaining to any person in authority or public officer of the Philippine Government, or any agency thereof, without being lawfully entitled to do so.”

Last July, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, ordered the indictment of Aquino III, the president who appointed her in office; former Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and PNP-Special Action Force Director Getulio Napeñas before the anti-graft court for the same offense after OMB investigators found prima facie evidence against them.

In this instance, however, Aquino III was the only respondent since Purisima and Napeñas are already being prosecuted before the 4th Division of the Sandiganbayan.

The OMB recommended a total of PhP40,000 bail for Aquino, PhP30,000 for the graft case and PhP10,000 for the criminal charges.

Aquino III in a bid to avoid prosecution filed last September a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) where he emphasized that he was only exercising his duty to maximize all government resources available to ensure success of the operation.

The OMB, however, junked Aquino III’s MR as wells as that of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) which sought the filing of a more serious case of reckless imprudence resulting to multiple homicide against the former president. Morales said the OMB found “no cogent reason to reverse or modify the assailed resolution” by the VACC after a fresh evaluation of the evidence.

The OMB, in its present charge sheet before the Sandiganbayan, alleged that Aquino influenced and forced Purisima to defy his preventive suspension and the PNP chain of command, which was then under Acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina.

It added that the former PNP chief gave instructions, received reports and recommendations, and approved the actions of Napeñas during the operation dubbed as Oplan Exodus.

According to Morales, the criminal negligence of Aquino is based on several acts:

(1) participation and assistance in the planning of Oplan Exodus with gross and inexcusable negligence;

(2) approving the operation with full knowledge that it was flawed;

(3) for allowing suspended PNP Chief Purisima not only to participate in the planning, but also in the running of said operation and providing information and intelligence, thereby giving pseudo-legal power to a suspended official; and

(4) breach in the established norms inherent in a chain of command.

Morales also said “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 [for the anomalous Werfast deal].”

Despite this, SMS exchanges between President Aquino and Purisima showed that the suspended police chief played a major role in the botched operation, she added.

“The fact remains that, at the time, particularly before and during the actual implementation of Oplan Exodus, Purisima was under preventive suspension, and that Purisima, despite being under preventive suspension, indeed played an active role in Oplan Exodus, as shown by all the record of SMS exchanges and findings in the Senate Committee Report on the Mamasapano incident, to the point that he was exercising a degree of authority and discretion over Napeñas and consequently, over the operation,” Morales noted.

Four hundred highly-trained commandos belonging to the elite PNP-SAF, launched Oplan Exodus on January 24, 2015 to serve standing warrants of arrest against internationally-wanted terrorists, Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan and Ahmad Akmad Uson in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

In the ensuing firefight, that lasted for several hours, 44 SAF troopers died in the line of duty.

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