The indictment by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales of former President Benigno Aquino III in connection with the Mamasapano massacre has prompted calls in the House of Representatives and the Senate for the revival of their investigations of the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by Moro rebels on Jan. 25, 2015.
Morales on Friday ordered the filing in the Sandiganbayan of criminal charges against Aquino for usurpation of authority and graft for allowing then suspended Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and SAF Director Getulio Napeñas Jr., to carry out an operation for the arrest of two international terrorists in Maguindanao.
Purisima and Napeñas were also indicted for graft, which carries a penalty ranging from six to 10 years in prison, and usurpation of authority, which is punishable by six months to six years in prison.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate on Sunday called the indictment a “downgrade” of Aquino’s offenses.
“This indictment still does not reflect the gravity of their offenses against the people in the Mamasapano debacle,” Zarate said.
He renewed his call for the House committees on national defense and security, public order and safety, and peace, reconciliation and unity to “further investigate significant issues unanswered and unresolved.”
“There is more to these downgraded charges than meets the eye. We need to dig deeper so that justice can be duly served,” he said, citing reported US involvement in the botched operation.
Sen. Richard Gordon said on Sunday that he planned to reopen his committee’s inquiry into the massacre and possibly summon Aquino to testify.
“Nobody will be exempted from this … I don’t have any ill feelings against (the former President). He has to man up and face the consequences,” he said in a radio interview.
Gordon said the Senate could reopen the inquiry because the previous inquiry had not totally closed.
He also said the Ombudsman should have filed “graver charges … multiple homicide through reckless imprudence.”
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in the same radio interview that he would oppose any new inquiry, pointing out that Morales had issued the indictment.
“There is a case now and the right to self-incrimination is applicable here,” Drilon said. “Whatever statements are made in the Senate can be used against the one testifying.”
Drilon also recalled that there was already a committee report on the Mamasapano case, referring to an earlier report issued by Sen. Grace Poe, who conducted the initial inquiry.
Aquino is gearing up to file a motion for reconsideration of the Ombudsman’s findings.
The Ombudsman had earlier dismissed the complaint for multiple counts of reckless imprudence over the Mamasapano bloodbath.
Its July 14 resolution stated that Aquino could not be held directly liable for the deaths because their “proximate legal cause” was the “intentional act of shooting by hostile forces.”
The Ombudsman only found basis to pursue Aquino’s indictment in relation to his complicity in allowing Purisima, a close friend, to take the reins of “Oplan Exodus” in Mamasapano.
At the time, Purisima was under suspension by the Ombudsman pending investigation on a separate graft case involving the Werfast firearm license delivery deal.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Sunday that Aquino’s indictment was a vindication for Napeñas, his former client in the case.
“That was exactly [Napeñas’] defense; that the liability was with [the] higher officials [because] he was only following their orders,” Aguirre said in a text message to reporters.
He agreed with the Ombudsman’s conclusion that Aquino and Purisima should stand trial in the Sandiganbayan.
The justice secretary, however, declined to comment on the clamor of some of the slain commandos’ relatives that Aquino should be held criminally liable for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide.
“I have yet to fully read the Ombudsman’s resolution to give a well-studied opinion on the matter,” said Aguirre.
“[But] it’s a welcome development. The factual bases of the resolution are by and large accurate,” he stressed.