MANILA – Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has affirmed the finding of probable cause to charge former President Benigno Aquino III before the Sandiganbayan for the 2015 Mamasapano tragedy, where 44 members of the police Special Action Force on a mission to get a Malaysian terrorist were killed in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao.
Aquino will be facing trial for Usurpation of Official Functions (Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code) and violation of Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019), according to a press release of the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday.
“President Aquino has repeatedly admitted and asserted in his counter-affidavit and in the instant motion that he utilized the services of (then preventively suspended Philippine National Police Chief Alan) Purisima for Oplan Exodus, albeit he is insisting that it was only for a limited role of a resource person,” the Ombudsman said.
“To this Office, however, the evidence on record regarding the extent of Purisima’s actual participation in Oplan Exodus, shows that he was certainly much more than a mere resource person. That President Aquino utilized the services of the preventively suspended Purisima, prior to and during the implementation, thereby giving Purisima an active role in Oplan Exodus as he was exercising a degree of authority and discretion over (SAF Director Getulio) Napeñas, is the crux of the finding of probable cause against President Aquino,” the Ombudsman explained.
Oplan Exodus was created to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and two cohorts. In early January 2015, Aquino met with Purisima, Napeñas, and PNP Intelligence Group head Chief Superintendent Fernando Mendez at Bahay Pangarap in Malacañang to discuss the operation.
Oplan Exodus was carried out on January 25, 2015. As the police commandos moved in at dawn to apprehend the terrorists, they came under fire from the MILF, BIFF, and other armed groups. Besides the 44 SAF men, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians were also killed.
“To this Office, President Aquino’s act of utilizing the services of Purisima for Oplan Exodus set into motion the latter’s participation and involvement therein prior to and during its implementation,” the Ombudsman said.
“In fact, measured against the nature and extent of the short message service (SMS) exchanges alone between Purisima and President Aquino on January 8, 13, and 25, 2015, as quoted in the Resolution, President Aquino’s insistence on Purisima’s role as a mere resource person for Oplan Exodus does not lie vis-à-vis the evidence,” the Ombudsman added.
Morales said she found probable cause against Aquino for having utilized Purisima’s services for Oplan Exodus while the latter was under preventive suspension. Thus, she said, Aquino was complicit in and influenced the commission of the offenses.
According to Supreme Court jurisprudence, she added, “in all cases of preventive suspension, the suspended official is barred from performing the functions of his office and does not receive salary in the meanwhile.”
The Ombudsman said that Usurpation of Official Functions carried the penalty of six months and one day to four years and two months; the graft charge, meanwhile, carried a penalty of imprisonment of six years and one month to fifteen years.
In July, Aquino told The Philippine Star that the Ombudsman’s decision to charge him was a surprise, as according to him, there had been no complaint filed against him in relation to the charges.
“I asked (my lawyers), can I be judged for something that I was never complained about? And they said that it is in the prerogatives of the Ombudsman. They can define what the charges should be,” he said.
“There was no complaint. And the complaint would normally be the form of an affidavit of complaint to which you are asked to submit your counter-affidavit and refute the facts presented by the complaint. But since I wasn’t complained about with regards to usurpation, we never had the chance to rebut or refute any of the allegations,” he added.
In the Ombudsman’s press release, it was said that Morales had junked Aquino’s claims that he was denied due process and he had been afforded the opportunity to be heard during the preliminary investigation.
The press release cited his motion for reconsideration, where Aquino said that “all the actions he carried out during the briefing for Oplan Exodus and its implementation were perfectly within the bounds of his powers and functions as the President of the Philippines and Chief Executive. ”
Based on the motion for reconsideration, Aquino also said that “his only intent was to utilize the expertise of Purisima and not for Purisima to command or plan anything, but just to help him understand what Napeñas and his people were talking about and that he was a passive receiver of information regarding an on-going operation.”
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