(UPDATED – 9:16 p.m.) MANILA – Former President Benigno Aquino III has been ordered to stand trial for his liability in the 2015 Mamasapano massacre that left 44 members of the police special forces dead, according to an order by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
In a Resolution approved Friday, Ombudsman Morales ordered the filing of charges against Aquino for Usurpation of Authority (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).
Standing as his co-conspirators are former Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima and Director Getulio Napeñas of the Special Action Force (SAF).
The botched operation, kept from the then acting PNP chief and Interior secretary by the trio of Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas, became a national tragedy with the death of the 44 elite SAF men sent to apprehend a Malaysian terrorist in Maguindanao.
Just before midnight of January 25, 2015, almost 400 highly-trained commandos belonging to the elite SAF, unilaterally launched Oplan Exodus 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.
According to the complainants, 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 proving 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.
Get the best lawyers – Lacson
Aquino, meanwhile, received unsolicited advice – get the best lawyers – from former Senate colleague Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Another senator, Grace Poe, who chaired the joint inquiry into Mamasapano, expressed a wish for “justice to be served” and urged respect for the legal processes.
In a reaction shared with media, Sen. Lacson said: “As a friend and former colleague in the Senate, I fell for former president Aquino as he stands trial before a court of law. I trust that he can able defend himself. I can only urge him to get the best lawyers to handle his case. I join those who are praying that he will be able to withstand the pressure. I’ve been there myself and I know how it feels.”
Lacson was reacting to his own legal saga when he was accused of being the brains in the Bubby Dacer-Emmanuel Corbito murders, and he flew abroad because he felt he was being unjustly persecuted by the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Lacson returned when Arroyo’s successor, Mr. Aquino, won the presidency.
Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, issued this text statement on the Ombudsman’s charges on the Mamasapano case: “Let us allow the mandated legal institutions to perform their duties as they act on this case and allow the former president to present his defense. In the end we should respect whatever the outcome will be, so we, as a nation will be able to put closure to this incident. However, we do hope that in the end, justice will truly be served.”
Aquino knew of Purisima suspension
In the investigation, Ombudsman Morales stated that “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 Werfest deal].” Despite this, SMS exchanges between President Aquino and Purisima showed that the suspended police chief played a major role in the botched operation.
“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,” reads the Consolidated Resolution.
Ombudsman Morales commented that “certainly a public officer who is under preventive suspension in 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 President Aquino.”
For the offense under Section 3(a) of R.A. No. 3019, all the foregoing circumstances establish probable cause that, with the complicity and influence of President Aquino, the order of preventive suspension issued by the Ombudsman was violated.
Under Section 3(a) of R.A. No. 3019, 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. Meantime, under Article 177, 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.
Click and watch News5’s anchor Ed Lingao explain the fine points of what the Battle for Mamasapano is about:
TIMELINE OF SALIENT MAMASAPANO EVENTS
as compiled by InterAksyon’s Camille Aguinaldo
January 9, 2015
Oplan Exodus is hatched, to arrest Al Qaeda linked-Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan and Filipino associate Basit Usman. This will be the 10th attempt of the police to capture Marwan, who has a $5 million bounty based on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation
Suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Purisima, together with PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas, and PNP Intelligence Group head Chief Superintendent Fernando Mendez meet with President Aquino at Bahay Pangarap in Malacañang to discuss the operation.
After the presentation, Purisima tells Napeñas to inform PNP Officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II about Oplan Exodus only when the SAF commandos arrive in the area of operation. He also tells the SAF director that he will inform his Philippine Military Academy ‘mistah’, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gregorio Pio Catapang, about the operation himself.
*Meanwhile, different versions were recounted regarding the plan to coordinate Oplan Exodus with the military.
During the Senate hearing, Napeñas said Aquino adviced him on the need to coordinate with the AFP. He alleged that Aquino later said nothing when he asked for elaboration on the advice.
But the former president said later, in March 9, 2015 that when he insisted for Napeñas to coordinate with the military before the operation, Napeñas allegedly replied, “Yes sir.” This despite the earlier suggestions received by the SAF chief to inform the military only when the SAF commandos were already in the area.
January 13, 2015
Purisima forwards to Aquino a text message he received from Napeñas, who recommended to follow apply the “secondary date of operation” since significant forces were deployed at the time in Tacloban, Leyte for the visit of Pope Francis.
Aquino replies, “OK.”
January 19, 2015
Purisima sends a text message to Napeñas, asking for updates on the plan. Napeñas replies, “The plan for the opns is [sic] go on the timeline…”
January 25, 2015
Oplan Exodus is carried out.
Between 3:00 am and 6:00 am
Some 392 SAF commandos enter Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano, Maguindanao to infiltrate the suspected hideout of Marwan. The terrorist is killed within minutes of waking up while Usman, who was apparently at a nearby nipa hut, escapes.
A firefight ensues when the Marwan’s security forces hear gunshots.
Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) join in and immerse themselves at the gunfight.
Nearby Army troops hear gunshots and inform the brigade command.
Napeñas starts to send text messages to Army officials and Espina, informing them of the Mamasapano operation.
*The Senate Committee report pointed out Napeñas’ late coordination with the military when he should have informed the military two hours earlier when his troops arrived in Tukalinapao as he had previously insisted last January 9.
Purisima informs Espina about the neutralization of Marwan.
Purisima starts sending updates to Aquino through text messages, informing him first that Marwan had been killed in the SAF operation.
*This contradicted Aquino’s statement in a later televised address that Purisima only briefed him with the jargons throughout the operation.
Between 6:04 am and 6:10 am
Espina, Purisima, and Napeñas communicate with Lt. Gen Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, to request for military support to SAF commandos operating in Mamasapano.
Roxas receives a text message from PNP Intelligence’s Mendez, informing him of the Mamasapano operation.
Between 7:48 am and 8:17 am
Aquino replies to Purisima’s first update.
Purisima provides Aquino with more details on the Mamasapano operation and mentions that SAF troopers are now being supported by the military.
Roxas sends a text message to Aquino, telling him about an ongoing operation in Mindanao. Aquino replies: “Thank you.”
Heeding previous requests for support, AFP troops start to arrive in Mamasapano to reinforce the surrounded SAF troopers.
Aquino texts Purisima, “Basit should not get away.”
Aquino, Roxas, and Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin arrive in Zamboanga City to inspect the January 23 car bomb blast site carried out by the Abu Sayyaf Group. Throughout the plane ride, the ongoing operation in Mamasapano is not discussed.
A closed door meeting is immediately held with Cabinet officials who have no clue about the encounter and Army officials who already knew about it.
Aquino asks Guerrero about the situation in Mamasapano.
Guerrero tells Aquino, Roxas, and Gazmin about what he only knew and underscores his information is vague.
Purisima texts another update to Aquino on the Mamasapano operation.
SAF commandos are still alive but many are wounded and running out of ammunition.
55th SAF Company commander Insp. Ryan Pabalinas sends his last request for reinforcements through radio. Napeñas loses contact with the SAF commandos pinned down in the cornfield battle zone.
Between 2:53 pm and 4:50 pm
Aquino visits the Zamboanga blast site as well as hospitals where the blast victims are admitted.
Westmincom’s Guerrero receives a report from Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities Brigadier General Carlito Galvez about the numerous casualties in Mamasapano. He later informs Aquino, Gazmin, and Roxas about the gravity of the situation in Mamasapano.
Guerrero and Aquino talk about plans to resupply the government troops with ammo and food.
Purisima provides another update to Aquino.
Reinforcing soldiers recover the bodies of the killed SAF troopers. Other government units start to conduct rescue efforts in Mamasapano.
Aquino arrives in Manila. The president initially wants to fly to Cotabato but pilots and Gazmin reportedly advised him not to do so, since the airport in Cotabato City was not equipped for night landing.
Espina issues a statement that 44 SAF commandos have been killed in the Mamasapano operation
January 26, 2015
PO2 Christopher Robert Lalan, the lone survivor from the 36-member 84th SAF company tasked to arrest Marwan, is rescued by the Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion.
January 27, 2015
Napeñas is sacked.
January 28, 2015
Addressing the nation, Aquino declares a national day of morning on June 30 for the slain 44 SAF commandos in the Mamasapano operation.
February 6, 2015
Purisima announces his resignation as PNP Chief.