Criminal charges filed vs. ex-President Aquino over Mamasapano encounter

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — The Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday filed charges against former President Benigno Aquino III over the bloody Mamasapano encounter in January 2015.

Aquino is facing criminal charges for usurpation of authority under the Revised Penal Code and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The cases were filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan at 9:43 a.m. Wednesday, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang confirmed.

In a July 14 decision, the Ombudsman cleared Aquino of homicide charges but said he was still liable for the deaths of 44 members of the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Special Action Forces, known as the SAF 44, on January 25, 2015.

What Aquino did wrong, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said, was to allow then PNP Chief Alan Purisima to play a major role in the Mamasapano operation despite being under preventive suspension.

Aquino on July 19 appealed to the Ombudsman to dismiss the charges against him. The Ombudsman on September 11 junked Aquino's motion.

The Sandigabanbayan is set to raffle Aquino's cases on Friday to determine which division will handle these.

If the anti-graft court finds sufficient bases, it may issue an arrest warrant against Aquino.

His charges are bailable, P30,000 for graft and P10,000 for usurpation of authority.

Some family members of the SAF 44 however said they will file a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the Ombudsman's decision.

They want Aquino charged for 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide being the commander in chief of the botched Mamasapano operation that killed 44 SAF troopers.

Read: SAF44 kin to ask SC to review Ombudsman decision on Mamasapano

LP: Aquino to prove innocence

The Liberal Party (LP) in a statement stood by one of its key leaders.

"We maintain that President Aquino, after thorough consultation with officials, only did what he deemed best and right under the situation," the LP said.

"He will clear his name in court and prove he is innocent of the charges. We believe the court will afford him due process and fair trial," it added.

Aquino's first cousin, Senator Bam Aquino, said he expects for truth to be revealed and justice to be served, as the former president has always been ready to face probe.

"Sa simula pa lang, naging bukas na ang dating pangulong Aquino ukol sa kanyang naging papel sa trahedya sa Mamasapano, kaya tiwala akong haharapin niya ang kaso ng buong tapang at katapatan," he said.

[Translation: Since the start, former President Aquino has been open on what his role was during the Mamasapano tragedy, so I am confident he will face the charges with all courage and honesty."]

But the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC) thinks the Ombudsman case may contain wrong information.

"Ang dapat sana ay sinunod nila ang complaint ng VACC at relatives - ang reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. Tingin namin yun ang tamang charges against the respondent," Lawyer Manny Luna said.

[Translation: "They should have followed the complaint of the VACC and relatives - reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. We think these are the proper charges against the respondent."]

The VACC assisted families of the SAF 44 who slapped Aquino with a criminal complaint 24 hours after stepping down from the presidency on July 1, 2016.

Deadly Mamasapano operation

The SAF 44 were killed after an encounter with Moro rebels in the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao, despite a ceasefire.

At least 18 rebels and five civilians were also killed in the botched operation that was meant to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan."

Text messages presented at a Senate hearing in February 2015 showed Aquino and Purisima discussed the operation.

Morales said suspended public officials should be barred from performing any public function or meddling with the affairs of the government.

If found guilty, Aquino faces imprisonment of up to 10 years, with perpetual disqualification from public office.

Under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code, any person who shall perform duties of a public officer "without being lawfully entitled to do so, shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods" or six months to six years imprisonment.

The anti-graft law also states, "It shall be unlawful for any public officer to persuade, induce or influence another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority."

The Ombudsman earlier cleared Aquino of any liability, when it charged only Purisima, then SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas Jr., and nine other police officers in July 2015, when Aquino was still in power. In its latest decision, the Ombudsman said they were "co-conspirators."

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.