SC halts Mamasapano hearing amid SolGen's call for homicide raps vs. Aquino

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) — The Supreme Court granted on Friday the Solicitor General's request to suspend legal proceedings against former President Benigno Aquino III over the bloody Mamasapano encounter.

The Office of the Solicitor General had asked that Aquino's arraignment on February 15 be canceled as it urged the high court to order the filing of multiple homicide charges against Aquino and two former police officials involved in the botched Mamasapano operation in January 2015.

READ: SolGen asks SC to revive homicide charges vs. Aquino over Mamasapano encounter

The Ombudsman had dropped the charge of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against the three respondents when it filed the case with the Sandiganbayan.

The Supreme Court reached a decision on February 7 and issued a temporary restraining order, stopping the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan from proceeding with Aquino's arraignment where he was to plead either guilty or innocent of the charges.

CNN Philippines obtained a copy of the TRO on Friday.

 

Solicitor General Jose Calida commended the high court for "upholding the sacred duty of the State to prosecute crimes."

"This is the first step to hold those responsible for the senseless killing of the SAF44," Calida said in a tweet. He was referring to 44 members of the Philippine National Police's elite Special Action Force (SAF) who were killed in the botched Mamasapano operation on January 25, 2015.

Aquino's spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, said no one can predict what will happen after the issuance of the TRO.

"It's a good development for the petitioners because they wanted to stop the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan. The former president made a similar motion before the Sandiganbayan to just ask for time until his motion to quash is resolved," Valte told CNN Philippines in a phone interview.

Aquino on Friday also asked the Sandiganbayan to suspend the hearings and resolve his plea to dismiss the charges. Valte said the former President and his lawyers were ready to face the high court.

"The former president is quite confident that he can ably argue his case before the Supreme Court if called to do so," she said.

SolGen wants homicide charges vs. Aquino

The Solicitor General on January 25 this year further asked the court to "annul, reverse or set aside" the Ombudsman's resolution of June 13, 2017 dismissing the complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Aquino, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima and PNP-Special Action Forces (SAF) Commander Getulio Napeñas Jr.

The three face charges of graft and corruption, and usurpation or unlawful use of authority for the incident which killed 44 SAF members.

Aquino earlier asked the Sandiganbayan to resolve his plea to dismiss the charges.

The OSG said Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas were all liable for the death of the SAF 44's deaths.

"Respondents' liability is grounded on the faulty planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. This is regardless of the presence of hostile forces in the battle ground," it said.

Purisima was under preventive suspension at the time of the encounter. However, text messages presented at a Senate hearing in February 2015 showed Aquino and Purisima discussed the operation.

In setting aside the earlier homicide case, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said what Aquino did wrong was to allow Purisima to play a major role in the Mamasapano operation because the former PNP chief was under preventive suspension at the time.

Aquino posted a P40,000 bail to secure his provisional liberty even before the Sandiganbayan could order his arrest.

The SAF 44 were killed in an encounter with Moro rebels in the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao, despite an ongoing ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The combined military-police team were on a mission to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan."

At least 18 rebels and five civilians were also killed in the botched operation.