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SAF 44 kin sue; Noy sees harassment

Aquino, who stepped down on Thursday after six years in office, is again being charged for his role in Oplan Exodus in January 2015 that sought to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Ahmad Akmad Batabol or Basit Usman. Malacañang Photo Bureau/Gil Nartea

MANILA, Philippines - Relatives of two of the 44 elite policemen who were killed in the bloody Mamasapano encounter in Maguindanao last year filed new criminal complaints yesterday against former president Benigno Aquino III before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Also named respondents in the cases lodged by Erlinda Allaga, mother of PO3 Robert Allaga, and Warlito Mejia, father of PO2 Ephraim Mejia, were former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and former Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas.

Aquino, who stepped down on Thursday after six years in office, is again being charged for his role in Oplan Exodus in January 2015 that sought to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Ahmad Akmad Batabol or Basit Usman.

He is being slapped with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide charges even though he has already been cleared of liability by the Office of the Ombudsman as early as last year.

The anti-graft agency has in fact ordered the filing of graft and usurpation of authority charges against Purisima and Napeñas before the Sandiganbayan.

Ombudsman probers have also found them guilty of the administrative offenses of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service that carry the penalties of dismissal from government service, perpetual disqualification for re-employment in government service, forfeiture of retirement benefits and cancellation of eligibility.

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‘Mamasapano incident a tragedy’

Aquino maintained yesterday the Mamasapano incident was a tragedy and he was confident the charges filed against him in connection with the deaths of 44 SAF members were mere harassment and would not prosper.

In a statement released to the media, Aquino said he was curious as to how lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, counsel of the complainants, could support his absurd accusations and that he had instructed his lawyers to study possible actions at the appropriate time against those who would “instigate the filing of frivolous cases, which are nothing more than harassment.”

“I guess this is to be expected from an attention-seeker such as he,” Aquino said.

“The loss of the SAF 44 is a tragedy. I reiterate that if my instructions to then SAF director Getulio Napeñas were followed to the letter, perhaps the risks of the operation could have been minimized, and this tragedy could have been averted,” Aquino said.

“Let me emphasize: the families of the SAF 44 have experienced so much pain. I am worried that the instigators of this case, in furtherance of their objectives, are setting up the loved ones of the SAF 44 for even more suffering,” Aquino said.

Probe on Noy’s participation

In July last year, the Office of the Ombudsman said it conducted an investigation to look into allegations of Aquino’s participation in the operation but the special fact-finding panel “found that whatever participation the president may have had in the Mamasapano incident does not amount prima facie to a criminal offense, neither was his participation analogous to any of the impeachable offenses.”

Despite such ruling, the complainants in the new criminal cases, along with members of the group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption headed by Dante Jimenez and Topacio, want Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to again probe the former president now that he is no longer immune from suit.

Allaga and Mejia said they “seek justice” for their slain children who died “brutally bestial deaths” because of the “negligence, imprudence, lack of foresight and lack of skill in the planning, preparation and execution of Oplan: Exodus.”

In their complaint, the parents of the slain SAF commandos said “Aquino’s criminal negligence consisted of planning Oplan Exodus with gross and inexcusable neglect and thereafter approved the operation knowing it was flawed.”

They also accused the former president of “criminal negligence by allowing suspended PNP chief Purisima, not only to participate in ‘Exodus’ but in the running thereof during, and even in giving information and intelligence whilst the operation was ongoing.”

“Respondent Aquino knows, or should have known, that running roughshod over the chain-of-command would wreak havoc on so many aspects of ‘Oplan: Exodus’ and would result in confusion, ambivalence and total operational chaos.”

Purisima, on the other hand, is being charged for “his usurpation of authority” and for keeping then interior secretary Manuel Roxas II and then PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina in the dark until the morning of Jan. 25, 2015 when both the Seaborne and the 55th SAF were already heavily engaged with hostile forces.”

Napeñas, for his part, is being charged for “unlawfully taking orders from Purisima, knowing fully that because of the latter’s suspension, he was divested of the legal right to issue orders to his subordinates” and “for his poor planning and lousy execution of Oplan: Exodus.”

No deterrent

In an interview with The STAR, Topacio said the previous ruling of the ombudsman clearing Aquino of liability does not prevent the anti-graft agency from investigating him again for another charge.

“They should look at it with fresh eyes. This is a litmus test for the ombudsman. Whose interest is she advancing? It is very clear. This is reckless imprudence which is very easy to prove,” he said.

Topacio likened Aquino’s case to a driver of a vehicle who ran over someone for which he should be made accountable because he was negligent and people died.

He said new evidence uncovered during the reopened Senate inquiry on the Mamasapano incident led by then senator Juan Ponce Enrile last January “validated previous conclusions that the president was in on it from the beginning – that he planned it, that he gave the okay, and more clearly, he allowed a suspended police officer from taking the helm of the operations.”

Topacio said the graft and usurpation of authority charge for which Aquino was investigated is also different from the new case filed.

“Graft is a deliberate act. When you commit graft, you deliberately want to commit graft. Reckless imprudence, there is no intent, but nonetheless, because of negligence, imprudence, lack of foresight, lack of skill, may namatay (someone died),” he stressed.

“Mananagot ka rin (You will be held responsible) under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Article 4,” Topacio said.

GMA disputes Noy’s allegations

Meanwhile, as former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo congratulated President Duterte yesterday, she also disputed some of the allegations raised against her by his predecessor. – With Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero

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