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SAF 44 families won’t join ombudsman case vs Aquino

The ombudsman initiated the filing of cases against former president Benigno Aquino III after it dismissed the complaints of the families of the Special Action Force troopers who died during the encounter in January 2015. Malacañang Photo Bureau/Gil Nartea, Benhur Arcayan, File

MANILA, Philippines — The legal counsel for the families of 44 police commandos killed in the 2015 Mamasapano debacle and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption said yesterday they would not participate in the cases initiated by the Office of the Ombudsman against former president Benigno Aquino III because they were not satisfied with the indictment.

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said this even as President Duterte and allies of Aquino in the Senate defended the former chief executive from the charges against him.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said it was “legally inappropriate” for Aquino to be charged with usurpation of authority since this involves a person knowingly or falsely representing himself to be a government official.

On Wednesday, Duterte also said, “You cannot usurp what is inherently your duty” as Aquino was charged with violation of Section 3 (a) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices and usurpation of official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code before the Sandiganbayan.   

Duterte agreed with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that the filing of charges against Aquino would set a bad precedent since a president may always get the blame for every operation that fails.

The ombudsman initiated the filing of cases against Aquino after it dismissed the complaints of the families of the Special Action Force troopers who died during the encounter in January 2015.

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The ombudsman found lack of probable cause to charge Aquino with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide as the SAF families and VACC wanted since his actions, along with that of former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former SAF chief Getulio Napeñas Jr. related to the Mamasapano operation were not the proximate cause of the deaths of the 44 police commandos.

Topacio called the charges a sham while members of the Liberal Party where Aquino is a stalwart said “it is unthinkable” for the then president “to make a decision that would endanger the lives of our policemen and soldiers, or parade them helpless in the firing line.”

The VACC, representing two mothers of the slain SAF troopers also filed before the Supreme Court on Wednesday a petition for certiorari seeking the reversal of the ombudsman’s June 13 resolution ordering the filing of graft and usurpation cases against Aquino.

According to Topacio, staying away from the ombudsman’s case was their way of expressing “protest and disgust.” He added the filing of the charges against Aquino would make their petition before the SC moot and academic.

The LP stressed, however, that “no president, or any father of the nation” would put his men in harm’s way.

The LP maintained that Aquino, after thorough consultation with officials, “only did what he deemed best and right under the situation.”

No special treatment

Aquino’s cases are set to be raffled off today to determine which among the seven divisions of the Sandiganbayan will handle them. 

It is only after the raffling of cases that Aquino may post his bail bond before the concerned court division. An accused may post bail even before the court determines if there is probable cause to order his or her arrest.

In a text message to reporters, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said Aquino’s cases “will be treated the same as all other cases.”

“No spokesperson will be designated for the purpose,” Tang said.

Villanueva aired his confidence that Aquino will be able to answer the charges raised against him and defend his name and honor.

The LP also emphasized Aquino did not commit any criminal act or violated any law or the Constitution. “He will clear his name in court and prove he is innocent of the charges. We believe the court will afford him due process and fair trial,” the LP said.

Aquino has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, maintaining that Purisima only acted as his “resource person” for Oplan Exodus, or the operation to neutralize two terrorists in Mamasapano, and did not in any way participate in its planning and implementation.

He also said it was his prerogative as then chief executive and commander-in-chief to tap resource persons for operations he would have to decide on.

Aquino said on Sept. 21 he was confident of his defense as he bewailed the ombudsman’s decision finding him guilty of charges that were not filed when it absolved him of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide that was leveled against him.

He said his rights were violated as he was not given the opportunity to defend himself. “Parang ang bilis (It seemed quick),” Aquino said, adding that with an imperfect justice system, he could not be sure of the outcome of his cases.

“We don’t agree with the findings. (The) most important for me (is) they resolved a conflict that did not exist,” Aquino said.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV of LP said the filing of charges against his cousin was unfortunate and they “expect that in the end justice and the truth will prevail before the Sandiganbayan and the hearts of the Filipino people.”

The senator said he believes Aquino will face the case with courage and conviction as he had been transparent in his participation in the operation.

Villanueva said as the commander-in-chief of the police and armed forces, the former president had the power and authority to call the police operation, even if ill-fated.

“The former president had to act on a matter of urgent necessity. He deliberately did what should be expected of a leader, and he merely answered the call to act in the best interest of the country and our people,” Villanueva, who headed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority under the Aquino administration, added.

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