Mamasapano accusations 'absurd', says Aquino
MANILA (UPDATED) - A day after stepping down from office and losing his immunity, former President Benigno Aquino III faced a complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman for his alleged liabilities in the January 25, 2015 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Aquino branded the accusations against him as "absurd," adding that the new case may only set up the families of the slain Special Action Force (SAF) commandos "for even more suffering."
Over 60 people died, including 44 SAF troopers, in the Philippine National Police (PNP) operation to arrest top international terrorists Marwan and Basit Usman in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 last year.
Relatives of two slain SAF commandos and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino, former PNP Chief Alan Purisima and former SAF Director Getulio Napeñas.
They want the Ombudsman to investigate the three's liability in the deaths of the 44 SAF troopers.
The complainants are Erlina Aliaga, mother of PO3 Robert Dommolog Aliaga; Warlito Mejia, father of PO2 Ephraim Mejia; and the VACC represented by Dante Jimenez and Arsenio Evangelista.
The group based their complaints on the results of the Senate investigation and the report of the PNP Board of Inquiry on the Mamasapano incident.
The complaint stated that Aquino, Napeñas and Purisima "acted with inexcusable negligence and imprudence, utter lack of precaution and foresight on their part and they are therefore probably guilty of criminal negligence and reckless imprudence, which were the direct and proximate causes of the death of the forty-four (44) members of the PNP-SAF."
"Negligence, imprudence lack of foresight, lack of skill, wala pong criminal intent na patayin, ngunit dahil sa kapabayaan may namatay po," said Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, one of the lawyers who drafted the complaint.
'AQUINO INDIRECTLY CAUSED DEATHS'
The complainants said Aquino indirectly caused the elite cops' deaths after approving Oplan Exodus despite knowing that it was flawed, and also breaching the PNP chain of command. They cited the Senate report which stated that both Purisima and Napeñas admitted Aquino's participation and approval of the operation.
They mentioned the Senate report found that "the President also impliedly admitted that he gave his approval to the implementation of Oplan Exodus," and added this was also validated by the PNP's Mamasapano report.
"The President's public statement confirms that he approved Oplan Exodus. The records...indicate that President Aquino was aware of the details of the operation not only because of updates and information provided to him by suspended CPNP Purisima and surpassed the authority of the OIC-PNP," the complaint read, citing the PNP's Mamasapano report.
They added that Aquino must also be held criminally liable for allowing then suspended Pusiriama to plan the operation while keeping it secret from then PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina.
READ: 'PNoy, Purisima, Napenas violated chain of command'
"This was illegal and improper, and smacks of criminal and inexcusable negligence, because it is of common knowledge that at that time, Respondent Purisima was incapable of discharging the functions of Chief of the PNP due to a subsisting suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman," the complaint read.
"It was therefore criminally imprudent and evinces lack of foresight on the part of Respondent Aquino, to acquire and leave the intelligence, planning inputs and the control and command of 'Oplan: Exodus' to Respondent Purisima, when at that time, he was suspended as Chief of the PNP and therefore had no legal authority over elements of the entire PNP, including the members of SSF44."
The complaint said Aquino's decision of breaching the established PNP's chain of command indirectly caused the death of the 44 SAF commandos.
"As Chief Executive, Respondent Aquino knows, or should have known, that running roughshod over the PNP's chain-of-command would wreak havoc on so many aspects of 'Oplan: Exodus' and would result in confusion, ambivalence and total operational chaos. In fact, this is what exactly happened: by giving pseudo-legal power to a suspended official, forty-four (44) members of the PNP's SAF were killed."
They also questioned why Aquino did not send help when he was already in Zamboanga City during the bloody firefight.
'NOTHING MORE THAN HARASSMENT'
Aquino, for his part, lambasted Topacio for the "absurd" accusations. He also called the lawyer an "attention-seeker."
Topacio is one of the lawyers of Aquino's predecessor, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is facing various charges filed by his administration.
Arroyo remains detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center over of a case for plunder of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) funds when she was president.
"I am curious as to how Atty. Ferdinand Topacio intends to support his absurd accusations in connection to the tragedy that happened in Mamasapano. I guess this is to be expected from an attention-seeker such as he," said Aquino.
Aquino recognized that the loss of the SAF 44 is a tragedy. But he claimed if his instructions to Napeñas were only "followed to the letter," then the risks of the operation could have been minimized.
He also expressed concern that this new case may only cause more suffering to the families left by the slain police commandos.
"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 one of the SAF 44 for even more suffering," he said.
Aquino said he has already instructed his lawyers to study possible actions against those who instigate the filing of cases "which are nothing more than harassment."
NAPEÑAS, PURISIMA LIABLE
In a decision last May 31, 2016, the Ombudsman already ordered the indictment of Purisima and Napeñas for graft and usurpation of authority after finding them liable in the botched operations.
The Ombudsman questioned Purisima for carrying out the mission while under suspension, and Napeñas for following the orders of a suspended chief.
However, the complainants also want Purisima and Napeñas indicted for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide. They said their "deliberate acts of imprudence, inexcusable negligence and lack of foresight and precaution" caused the death of the policemen.
"Beyond the discharge of his functions while under suspension...Purisima is criminally negligent for the death of the SAF44 because upon (his) instructions, knowledge of Oplan Exodus was kept from the Secretary of the DILG and the OIC of the PNP until... when both the Seaborne and the 55th SAC were already heavily engaged with hostile forces," the complaint read.
"During the progress of 'Oplan: Exodus', Respondent Napenas' conduct thereof was lousy, to say the least; he was transmitting inaccurate intelligence and information which proved ultimately fatal," it added.
Compared to the initial Ombudsman investigations, the VACC said they have additional information aside from the statement of the survivors. The group asked to Ombudsman to thoroughly check the separate reports from the Senate and PNP for vital information that they might have overlooked before.
"Kaya nga po ganyan kakapal ang annexes, amin pong hinihiling sa Ombudsman na tingnan ang konklusyon sapagkat ang mabigat po dito, yung BOI--mismong kapulisan na nasa ilalim ng dating pangulo ang nagsasabi ang may kasalanan ang dating pangulo. Ang Senado, ang karagdagang impormasyon nang i-reopen ni Senator Enrile ang Senate inquiry," Topacio said.
In an interview, Warlito Mejia said they agreed to file the complaint because they have yet to get justice. He criticized Aquino for failing to give them the promised benefits, which he said was only given to the deceased cops' wives.
"Masama ang loob ko. Dapat managot ang managot. Mga pinangako nila, wala pang natutupad...gusto namin katarungan po," said Mejia.
For his part, Napeñas said the policemen's parents only agreed to file complaint because they are running after the financial assistance from the government.
He said the VACC only wants media mileage to make a good impression on the new administration.
READ: Napenas on graft, usurpation raps: 'Sobrang sakit'
He added he was surprised that he was named a respondent when Jimenez met with him recently and asked about the details of the operation and even offered to make him a state witness in the complaint against Aquino.
Jimenez admitted talking to Napeñas but denied having offered him to be a state witness.