JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Sunday questioned the Office of the Ombudsman for absolving former President Benigno Aquino III of liability for the bungled Mamasapano operation that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos in January 2015.
“The BOI [Board of Inquiry] as well the Senate inquiry found his [Aquino’s] liability. That’s why I really wonder why he was not charged [by the Ombudsman] now that he doesn’t have immunity [from criminal suits] anymore,” Aguirre said.
“Why was the official who gave the order absolved when those who just followed it are the ones charged in court now?” he asked.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte announced the creation of an independent commission to reinvestigate the ill-fated operation approved by Aquino to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
The Senate inquiry led by Senator Grace Poe found Aquino “ultimately responsible” for the Mamasapano mission, Aguirre noted.
At the time, however, the Senate report did not carry any specific recommendation to file charges against Aquino because he was immune from suit at the time, Aguirre said.
But even after Aquino’s term ended in July 2016, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales still has not filed any charges against the former president.
Two years after the incident, her office filed cases only against former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas for graft and usurpation of public functions.
The anti-crime watchdog Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption has already pushed for the impeachment of Morales for her supposed failure to investigate and prosecute those found liable for the death of the SAF 44.
The group also criticized her for her alleged inaction on the multiple homicide charges filed by families of some of the slain policemen.
The VACC said the Ombudsman, who was appointed by Aquino, should be impeached for criminal negligence, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Aguirre said proof of liability of the former president in the Mamasapano clash had already been established in previous investigations.
Aguirre, a cousin of Napeñas and who served previously as his lawyer, specifically cited the text exchange of messages between Aquino and Purisima the night before the actual operation.
“He [Aquino] was giving orders and being given updates on Marwan and Usman. This means he was on top of the situation. He knew what was happening,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre recalled that Aquino himself has admitted that he was informed about Marwan’s death, adding that it was impossible for the former president to be kept out of the loop by authorities.
Aguirre accused Aquino of lying when he said he was not informed before the operation, and that Napeñas did not coordinate with the Armed Forces.
“That is what he always says, but he is lying… He claimed he wasn’t talking to someone on the phone about it because its battery was dead for two hours. But that’s impossible. It was a very important operation and you can’t expect him to let his phone off for that long,” Aguirre said.
He challenged Aquino to submit his mobile phone for examination by the independent commission.
“He should let his cellphone examined so we will know what he really told the generals—if there was a stand down order or none,” Aguirre said.
The official suggested that the mobile phones of Purisima and other generals privy to the operations should also be submitted for examination.
Aguirre said the new probe should also cover Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles, whom President Duterte accused of preventing Aquino from sending back-up forces to the SAF men supposedly in the interest of the previous administration’s peace talks with the MILF.
“There are many questions that remained unanswered. That’s why this reinvestigation will be very helpful in getting the closure and justice that the families of the SAF 44 are waiting for,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre added that he plans to inhibit himself from the investigation because of his relation with Napeñas.
The Palace said it expects to announce the members of the new commission within the next few weeks.
“The President would like to have a fast investigation,” said Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Maria Paz Banaag on state-run dzRB. With Sandy Araneta