Aquino no-show at arraignment, seeks dismissal of Mamasapano raps
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former president Benigno Aquino III was a no-show at his arraignment before the Sandiganbayan yesterday for criminal cases against him in connection with the 2015 Mamasapano incident.

In an interview with reporters, Aquino’s lawyer Romeo Fernandez said their camp was not aware that the former president’s arraignment was set yesterday at the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division.

“The motion to quash has to be resolved first before the arraignment can push through. Ang alam lang namin (what we know) is that the motion to quash (will be heard today),” Fernandez said.

In the hearing yesterday, the Fourth Division gave the Office of the Ombudsman’s prosecution team 10 days to file its comment on Aquino’s motion.

The court tentatively set Aquino’s arraignment to Feb. 15.

“It will still depend on what will be the ruling of the court. If the motion to quash is granted, of course there will no longer be an arraignment,” Fernandez said in Filipino.

Filed by the ombudsman in November last year, the cases against Aquino involve one count each of violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law and usurpation of official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.

Also charged with the same offenses were former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP-Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas Jr.

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

Marwan was neutralized but the operation resulted in the death of over 60 people including 44 members of the PNP-SAF.

In his motion to quash filed last Jan. 4, Aquino, through his lawyers, sought the dismissal of the cases, arguing that the facts contained in the information sheets do not constitute the charged offense.

Aquino argued that merely allowing Purisima to be present during the planning of Oplan Exodus cannot constitute usurpation of official functions as it “does not equate to an unlawful ‘ousting’ of (then PNP acting chief) Leonardo Espina’s authority to oversee the conduct of Oplan Exodus.”

Furthermore, Aquino said the ombudsman failed to state in the charge sheet his specific acts that supposedly violated Section 3 (a) of RA 3019, a provision which prohibits public officials “to persuade, induce or influence another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority.”

“In sum, the (information)... has no allegation showing that (Aquino) persuaded, induced, or influenced (Purisima) to violate the PNP chain of command, the ombudsman’s preventive suspension order and Special Order 9851,” Aquino’s motion read.

Special Order 9851 refers to the directive issued by Espina in December 2016, directing Purisima to desist from performing his functions as PNP chief in connection with the latter’s suspension by the ombudsman in connection with a graft case over an alleged anomalous courier service deal with a private company.

“As former president and leader of the country’s police forces, (Aquino) was precisely at the very top of the chain of command or supersede the orders of a subordinate PNP-OIC chief,” the motion added.

Aquino also cited Article VII of the 1987 Constitution which, he said, vests in him all the “executive powers” to ensure the arrest of someone who poses a threat to national security.

Aquino said in his “lawful exercise of his presidential powers,” he can utilize the services of Purisima for Oplan Exodus “prior to and during its implementation” as well as to “ease out PNP-OIC chief Espina and then secretary of the interior and local government Manuel Roxas II from Oplan Exodus.”

Malacañang, meanwhile, expressed hope that the Sandiganbayan will speed up its processes on Aquino’s case.

“Well, on President Aquino, (we’re happy) that he is complying and observing the rule of law,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday, apparently not informed that the former president did not enter a plea.

“He has entered a plea, and we expect the case to be prosecuted at the soonest time possible,” he said during a press  briefing in Bukidnon. – Christina Mendez

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