MANILA (UPDATE) – The Supreme Court has lifted the temporary restraining order on the Mamasapano trial at the Sandiganbayan, the Supreme Court Public Information Office confirmed Wednesday, paving the way for possible action on the withdrawal of the graft and usurpation of authority charges against former President Benigno Aquino III.
“Upon verification with the Chief Justice, I would like to confirm that the Supreme Court has lifted the TRO on the Mamasapano trial before the Sandiganbayan,” SC public information office chief Brian Keith F. Hosaka said in a text message.
Two sources earlier told ABS-CBN News the magistrates voted to lift the TRO during their weekly en banc session Tuesday.
Aquino is facing graft and usurpation charges in connection with the January 25, 2015 police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that ended in the deaths of more than 60 people, including 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF).
Charged with Aquino are former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former PNP-SAF director Getulio Napeñas, Jr.
The charges were filed with the Sandiganbayan in November 2017 during the time of former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.
But relatives and family members of the SAF commandos, collectively known as SAF44, filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that Aquino be charged instead with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, a move supported by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
The high court issued a TRO in February last year, just before Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas were set to be arraigned.
In June this year, Ombudsman Samuel Martires moved to withdraw the graft and usurpation charges against Aquino, saying he found no sufficient ground and evidence but “without prejudice to the filing of appropriate charges against the accused after the conduct of preliminary investigation.”
In July, Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said the anti-graft court will wait for the SC to lift the TRO before it could act on the Ombudsman’s motion.
According to ABS-CBN’s sources, it will be up to the Sandiganbayan to decide whether or not to allow the withdrawal of the charges.
Martires’ move raised concerns it will lead to the filing of more serious charges against Aquino.
Prior to Martires' withdrawal of the graft and usurpation charges, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Office of Solicitor General urged the Ombudsman to charge the former president with multiple homicide instead of graft and usurpation of power.
Homicide carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. On the other hand, the maximum jail time for graft is 15 years and up to 4 years and 2 months for usurpation.
Aquino has always insisted that the botched anti-terror mission was not his fault, blaming instead Napeñas who allegedly disobeyed orders to coordinate with the Army.