MANILA – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre finds too flimsy the usurpation of authority and graft charges filed by the Ombudsman against former President Benigno Aquino III in connection with the 2015 Mamasapano incident that killed 44 men of the police special forces.
The Ombudsman ordered the filing of such charges last week, while dropping the charge of multiple homicide, sparking allegations from anticrime groups that the case was meant to be “lost” because it is thinly anchored.
Aguirre noted that the cases lodged against Aquino are both bailable and probationable, and the possible jail term is less than six years.
The former president faced what was seen as his biggest political challenge when 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in day-long clashes with various armed elements (the MILF, BIFF and other private armed groups) while on a mission to apprehend Malaysian terrorist Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The usurpation charge arose from then-President Aquino’s decision to tap the suspended PNP chief, Gen. Alan Purisima, to continue his crucial role in the anti-terrorist mission despite knowing full well that Purisima had been suspended by the Ombudsman for a procurement anomaly.
“Masyadong maliit nga ‘yun, as a matter of fact alam naman natin na bailable yun, eh. Baka wala pang anim na taon yun, eh. Bailable or probationable, [The charge is really too flimsy. Not even six years in prison. Bailable and probationable],” said Aguirre.
He admitted he had not fully read the resolution of the Ombudsman, but described as “accurate” the agency findings.
Earlier this week, President Duterte had described the charge against Aquino as “silly” and said it might not stand a chance in court.
Aguirre for his part declined to comment what he considered the appropriate charge against Aquino.
“By and large, the findings of fact of the Ombudsman is accurate naman, but as to the application of these findings, [or what should be charged], I am not yet in the position to comment on that,” said Aguirre.
Napeñas: Aquino’s liability bigger
Meanwhile, the former PNP-SAF chief, Getulio Napeñas, agreed that the charges against Aquino are too light and do not fully capture his liability, not just in tapping a suspended PNP chief but in failing to order the military to run to the SAF men’s help.
“Kasi nasa Zamboanga siya. ‘Yun ang pananagutan niya: bakit di siya nag-provide ng tulong [Mr. Aquino was in Zamboanga; why did he not call in help for the SAF]?” Napeñas demanded to know. “If they provided artillery support [in the morning, the casualties would not be that many],” said Napeñas, speaking partly in Filipino.
He noted that during the investigation, however, General Catapang said the AFP troops were not called in “because of the peace process. Sino ang nagrekomenda [who made the recommendation not to bring them in]?”
Napeñas said he is ready to face the Senate again in case the inquiry at the chamber is reopened. But, he added, there is no further information senators can get from him as he had shared all he knew of what happened before, during and after January 25, 2015.
Instead, he suggested that probers compel the telcos to produce the transcript of the text conversations between Aquino, Purisima and other generals
The truth, Napeñas said, would lie therein. “Huli yan! makikita ‘yan. Kasi yung transcription ng text messages nina Gen. Purisima, Gen. Guerrero, kinuha lang nila ang laman. Hindi nila sinubmit ang cellphone nila for forensic.”
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