THE Office of the Solicitor General on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to order the Office of the Ombudsman to charge former President Benigno Aquino III with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide for the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force in Mamasapano three years ago.
In a manifestation, Solicitor General Jose Calida expressed his support for the petition filed by two relatives of the slain police commandoes.
Calida also sought the inclusion of former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, and former Special Action Force director Getulio Napeñas Jr. among the accused for 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
The solicitor general also asked the Court to stop the Feb. 15 arraignment of Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas before the Sandiganbayan, while this petition is pending.
The Ombudsman has charged Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas with charges of usurpation of official functions and violation of the Anti-Graft Law, but the anti-graft body dismissed the case for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.
“The act of public respondent Ombudsman in the case of dismissing the case for reckless imprudence, however, is a wanton disregard of the sufficiency of evidence to form a belief that a crime for reckless imprudence has been committed,” Calida said.
Calida said Aquino allowed Napeñas to push through with the operation under Purisima, who was suspended at the time.
“As the PNP [Philippine National Police] is under the DILG, the President, as the Chief Executive, exercises supervision and control over it. Thus, given that the President gave the policy direction to arrest Marwan and Usman, and that he approved Oplan Exodus with full knowledge of its operational details, the Chief Executive is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the mission,” Calida said.
The 44 SAF members were killed in an operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his right-hand man, Abdul Basit Usman.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice said it will pursue the prosecution of the perpetrators behind the killing of more than 60 people, including the 44 members of the SAF, during the 2015 Mamapasano clash.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre stressed that justice will be attained for the families of the victims of the Mamasapano encounter, while the Supreme Court has yet to act on DoJ request last year to transfer the trial venue.
Aguirre said the DoJ will continue to prosecute the Mamasapano case now pending before the Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao Regional Trial Court, Branch 15, despite security risks facing the prosecutors.
“While mindful of the security concerns involved in the trial of the case, we will pursue the quest for justice with dogged determination and perseverance,” Aguirre said.
“While we await the resolution by the Supreme Court of our request for transfer of venue to Metro Manila, you have our solemn reassurance that wherever the trial maybe, your prosecutors will comply with their duties and responsibilities zealously,” he added.
The DoJ filed the complaint after finding probable cause in March 18, 2016 to indict 88 respondents for 35 counts of direct assault with murder.
In a case status update submitted to Aguirre, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rosannie Elepano-Balauag, said then-Prosecutor General Victor Sepulveda wrote a letter to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Jan. 12, 2017 requesting the transfer of the trial to Metro Manila from the Shariff Aguak Maguindanao Regional Trial Court Branch 15.
Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr. submitted a letter to Sereno, through Court Administrator Midas Marquez, Dec. 7, 2017, reiterating the DoJ’s request for the transfer of venue.
“To date, the Supreme Court has not resolved the prosecution’s request for the transfer of venue of the case from Cotabato City to Metro Manila,” the Jan. 22 case status report said.
Arrest warrants were issued by the trial court against the accused on Jan. 25, 2017, but the trial of the case has not started due to pending motions for judicial determination of probable cause by some of the accused.
One accused, Samsudin Upam, urged the court to quash his arrest warrant.
The 88 accused—identified by a star witness known only by the code name Marathon and 11 other individuals—belong to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, its splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and private armed groups.
The case covers only the death of 35 members of the 55th SAF-Special Action Company.
The case is for the complex crime of direct assault with murder against 88 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups in connection to the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident which led to the deaths of 44 members of the SAF along with international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, a.k.a. Marwan.
On Jan. 25, 2015, thepolice commandos were deployed to Mamasapano to capture wanted terrorists Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.
Marwan, a Malaysian bomb maker with a bounty from the US government, was killed during the operations.
The operation resulted in the death of Marwan, but also triggered a fierce encounter that resulted in the death of 44 SAF members.
In the Palace, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte wants the truth behind the Mamasapano massacre to surface and the people responsible for it to be held accountable.
Roque made the statement as the nation marked the third year of the tragedy.
“We call on all members of the police today to look back to the sacrifice of their fallen colleagues. Honor their memory by reliving their values of integrity and courage as you perform your duty to serve and protect the nation.
“To our people, let us offer the most solemn prayer for our Fallen SAF heroes. We also pray for their bereaved families that their grief may soon be appeased through the attainment of justice,” he said.
Duterte, through Proclamation No. 164, has declared Jan. 25 of every year as Day of National Remembrance for the 44 SAF troopers killed during the botched Mamasapano operation in January 2015.
Senator Grace Poe, whose committee had investigated the massacre, said cases have been filed, but after three years, nothing much has happened.
“There is now the belief that justice, like the reinforcements promised on that fateful day, will never come,” she said.
“We have vowed on their graves that justice will be swift, and yet it is slow. Not one of those who have put our boys in harm’s way has been punished,” Poe said.
Senator Gregorio Honasan, on the other hand, said many Filipinos have accepted that the problem of slow justice was systemic.
Poe said fhe Mamasapano tragedy was a teachable moment in our history, and 44 brave men and seven civilians gave up their lives to impart important lessons–some that have been forgotten, and many that have been ignored.
“Even the full honors, for those who have given their full measure of devotion to duty, and help, to the loved ones they have left behind, are not only lacking but come in increments,” she said. With Vito Barcelo and Macon Ramos-Araneta