PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday vehemently denied having any hand on the move to press homicide charges against his predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III in connection with the deaths of 44 Special Action Force troopers in a botched operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao three years ago.
Speaking to reporters in Davao City, Duterte said it was “not his style” to pursue any cases against the opposition—even in the light of his repeated threats against Ombdusman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is now facing impeachment proceedings.
“[Aquino] is already facing charges. [Former] President Aquino, I said, it’s not my style, it’s not my system,” the President said in an interview in Davao City upon his arrival from India. “That did not come from me. Ask anyone, that’s not my style,” Duterte said.
The President also turned back on his promise to the families of the fallen SAF 44 that he would create a body similar to the Agrava Commission to investigate what really happened during the Jan. 25, 2015 tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
“Hindi na kasi I realized that once again—Tutal, naka-demanda na eh. They are facing charges. What more do you want? We can only presume that they did it in the wrong way,” the President said.
Nandiyan na, naka-demanda na si PNoy. President Aquino, ‘wag mo akong—Sabi ko, “It is not my style. It is not in my system.” Ikaw, si Sereno, si Ombudsman. Hindi galing sa akin. Magtanong ka maski sino, magtanong muna kayo. Hindi ko style ‘yan. ‘Pag magkita siguro tayo, medyo—We come to a face-to-face, ‘yun, baka you can—you know, anything can go wrong there,” he added.
On Jan. 24, 2017, the eve of the second anniversary of the tragedy—Duterte had vowed to bestow on the proposed commission the powers similarly given to the Agrava Commission, in an attempt to uncover what he then called as an “American adventure” with Aquino’s apparent blessing.
While he had nothing to do with Calida’s move, Duterte he said his only sentiment was why did the former president allow SAF members to die in the operation.
“If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. On Mamasapano, I have one regret. I have sentiment there,” the President said. “I’m not prepared to accuse personally but my only question is, why did you let our elite force to be trapped there and eventually die?”
Last Thursday, the government’s top lawyer, Solicitor-General Jose Calida led a manifestation urging the Supreme Court to direct the Office of the Ombudsman to reverse its ruling junking the reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide cases against the former President.
Calida maintained that Aquino is accountable for the deaths of 44 SAF troopers as he had “full knowledge” with the Oplan Exodus’ operational details.
“To reiterate, respondent Aquino’s criminal negligence consists in his active participation and direct involvement in the whole process as he helped plan Oplan Exodus with gross inexcusable negligence and approved the whole operation with full knowledge,” the Solicitor General said.
“The acts of negligence of [Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas] clearly show that probable cause exists to indict them for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the [Ombudsman],” he added.
Duterte issued Proclamation 164 on Feb. 21 last year, declaring Jan. 25 a “Day of National Remembrance” in honor of the sacrifice of the 44 SAF personnel slain in Mamasapano.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption said that as an appointee of former President Aquino, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should not be in anyway involved herself in trying the case against the former president on the tragic Mamasapano encounter in 2015.
The VACC said as PNoy’s appointee, Sereno is not expected be impartial.
“Ang alegasyon namin ay yung mga appointees ni Pangulong Aquino ay pinagtatakpan siya at nililigtas siya sa kasong ito ukol sa Mamasapano,” VACC lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said.
(Translation: “Our allegation is that appointees of President Aquino are trying to save him from prosecution in the Mamasapano case.”).
Earlier, the group accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales of favoring Aquino when she downgraded the charges against the former president
from homicide to graft and corruption, and usurpation or unlawful use of authority.
The downgrade, according to the VACC, was a clear conflict of interest since both Sereno and Morales were appointed by Aquino.
The VACC also asked the Supreme Court to stop Aquino’s arraignment on February 15, but the case was raffled off the Supreme Court’s first division, where Sereno chairs a panel of four other justices.
The VACC also said that Sereno is biased against their group.
“May bias na po si Chief Justice Sereno sapagkat one of the petitioners assisting the SAF (Special Action Force) 44 parents ay ang VACC and dapat maginhibit siya,” Topacio said.
(Translation: “Chief Justice Sereno has a bias because the VACC is one of the petitioners assisting the SAF 44 parents, so she must inhibit.”)
The VACC also initiated the impeachment campaign against the Chief Justice in Congress. Their complaint, however, was dismissed by the House Committee the cas Justice, leaving only one impeachment case filed by lawyer Larry Gadon.
On Thursday, the Solicitor General on asked the Supreme Court to revert the case back into homicide against Aquino and two other police officials, arguing that they were responsible for the death of what is now known as SAF 44.