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It's final: Ombudsman upholds raps vs Aquino over Mamasapano clash

In this file photo, then President Benigno Aquino III, wearing a black arm band, leaves the podium shortly after offering prayers for the police commandos killed in the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano mission. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:04 p.m.) — Former President Benigno Aquino III will soon be having his day in court as the Office of the Ombudsman upheld its earlier ruling ordering the filing of criminal cases against him in connection with the 2015 Mamasapano massacre.

In a 26-page decision dated September 5, copy of which was released to the media Thursday, the anti-graft body maintained that there is probable cause to charge Aquino before the Sandiganbayan with usurpation of authority under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code and violation of Section 3 (a) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The decision was signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on September 11.

Also ordered charged with Aquino were former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP-Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas Jr.

Purisima and Napeñas are already facing separate cases of graft and usurpation of authority before the Sandiganbayan still in connection with the Mamasapano incident.

The new decision is an affirmation of the ombudsman's June 13 ruling finding that Aquino should be held liable for allowing Purisima to play a “major role” in Oplan Exodus, the botched PNP-SAF operation aimed to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.

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“After a considered evaluation of the arguments raised by the movants vis-a-vis the evidence on record, the Office finds no cogent reason to reverse or modify the assailed resolution,” the ombudsman's new decision read.

READ: Aquino faces charges for role in Mamasapano clash

The ombudsman maintained that Aquino allowed Purisima to participate in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus despite being fully aware that the latter was at that time under preventive suspension over an alleged anomalous courier service deal that the PNP entered with a private firm for the delivery of firearms licenses.

“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.

The ombudsman found no merit in the arguments raised by Aquino in his motion for reconsideration that Purisima only acted as his “resource person” regarding Oplan Exodus and did not, in any way, participate in the operation's planning and implementation.

The ombudsman said the exchange of text messages between Aquino and Purisima before and during the actual day of the operation shows otherwise, as the latter even exerted “a degree of authority and discretion over Napeñas.”

VACC denounces decision

In the same decision, the ombudsman also denied the motion for reconsideration of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, seeking the filing of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas.
 
The VACC is representing the families of the SAF troopers killed in the incident.
 
The ombudsman maintained that the acts of Aquino, Pursima and Napeñas, were not the “proximate legal cause” of the death of the 44 SAF commandos but rather the “intentional act of shooting by the hostile forces.”
 
In a text message to reporters, Aquino's spokesperson Abigail Valte said the former president has already conferred with his legal team “to determine his next course of action regarding this case.”
 
Meanwhile, VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez denounced the ombudsman decision, saying that it is a way for Morales to shield Aquino from possible conviction.
 
Morales, a retired Supreme Court associate justice, was appointed by Aquino as Ombudsman in 2011.

Ombudsman's impeachment mulled

Jimenez said they are now studying the possibility of filing an impeachment complaint against Morales.
 
“We already saw this coming since Morales is hell-bent on shielding Noynoy from criminal liability for the death of the SAF44 troopers. She is unworthy and undeserving of the high office of Ombudsman and we will ask the families of SAF44 if they would want to join in the Impeachment of Ombudsman Morales,” Jimenez said.
 
The VACC had earlier said that Aquino should be held liable for 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide for the lost lives of 44 SAF members. The VACC pointed out that each count of the crime carries a penalty of imprisonment of four years, thus, if convicted of 44 counts, Aquino will be meted with 176 years of imprisonment.
 
The VACC said a graft case only carries a maximum penalty of 15 years of imprisonment while the penalty for usurpation of authority is convertible to just a fine.
 
Oplan Exodus went awry when the retreating SAF troopers were overpowered by the combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front its splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and some private armed groups.
 
The encounter left 44 SAF troopers, 18 MILF members and three civilians dead.

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