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Ombudsman seeks transfer of raps vs Aquino to another court division

Filed by the ombudsman on November 8, the cases of former President Benigno Aquino III involve violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices and usurpation of official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code. File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, may lose jurisdiction over the criminal cases recently filed against the latter in connection with the 2015 Mamapano incident.

In an 11-page motion filed on November 23, released to the media Friday, the Office of the Ombudsman's prosecution team asked the Sandiganbayan Third Division to allow the transfer the cases, filed against Aquino early this month, to the court's Fourth Division.

The prosecution said the cases against Aquino must be consolidated with the pending cases before the Fourth Division which the ombudsman filed last year against former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP-Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas Jr.

The prosecution said that since all the cases stemmed from a single incident, their consolidation is in order to accord the respondents “the benefit of saving time and litigation costs considering that they will appear before a single court which shall hear the totality of the Mamasapano Incident.”

“In the same manner, the prosecution will not be unduly burdened with the separate presentation of the same witnesses and same set of documents before two different courts trying virtually the same case,” the prosecution added.

The prosecution said the consolidation will also “allow the 4th Division to issue orders, resolutions, or decision which are based on a complete and holistic appreciation of the cases from a complete set of facts with all the alleged perpetrators thereof – accused Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas, all before a single Division of the Sandiganbayan.”

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Filed by the ombudsman on November 8, the cases of Aquino involve violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices and usurpation of official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.

The cases were raffled off on November 10 and went to the Third Division chaired by Tang.

Tang was appointed by Aquino as an associate justice of the Sandiganbayan in 2012 and just after a year, was appointed as the presiding justice besting all the other senior magistrates of the anti-graft court.

Aside from Tang, the Third Division is composed of senior member Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez and sitting member Sarah Jane Fernandez.

Bernelito Fernandez, a former Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge, was appointed by the President Rodrigo Duterte at the Sandiganbayan in December last year.

Sarah Jane Fernandez, an appointee of Aquino, is the chairperson of the court's Sixth Division. She is just serving as a “warm body” for the Third Division as Duterte has yet to fill in four vacant positions at the Sandiganbayan.

Tang had earlier said that her division will be fair in handling the cases against Aquino, assuring that her appointment by the latter “will never influence whatever action that the court will take in the case.”

Tang, in an earlier interview with reporters, also said there is no reason for her to inhibit from handling the cases against Aquino. She, however, added that her division will confer with the Fourth Division to study the possibility of consolidating the cases.

Filed by the ombudsman in December last year, the cases against Purisima and Napeñas also involve graft and usurpation of official functions. They were arraigned before the Fourth Division early this year, in which, they entered a not guilty plea for both cases.

The Fourth Division is chaired by Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, an appointee of former president and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Fourth Division is also composed of senior member Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz and junior member Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto. Cruz who was appointed by Aquino in January 2016 shortly before the end of his presidency while Jacinto was appointed by President Rodrigo Dutere in May of this year.

The cases stemmed from Aquino's alleged act of allowing then suspended PNP chief Purisima to participate in the planning and implementation of Oplan Exodus, a botched police operation aimed to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.

The operation resulted in the death of over 60 people including 44 members of the PNP-SAF.

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