The recommendation made by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales to downgrade the charges against former President Benigno Aquino drew condemnation from both the families of the slain “SAF 44” and officials of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption on Saturday.
The families and the VACC instead said they want Aquino to be indicted for homicide.
The reaction came following Morales’ recommendation to dismiss the charges of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino for “lack of probable cause” even as she ordered the former president to be tried for usurpation of authority and a violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for “criminal negligence.”
Also recommended charged were former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and former SAF director Getulio Napeñas.
Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas face six to 15 years in jail if they are convicted of graft. Usurpation of authority, on the other hand, carries a penalty of up to four years.
Under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code, any person who performs duties of a public officer without being lawfully entitled to do so faces six months to six years in jail.
The anti-graft law also makes it illegal 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.”
In 2016, the VACC, together with the families of the SAF 44, consolidated their complaints, which alleged that Aquino committed gross and inexcusable negligence when he knew fully well that the operation was flawed, and breached the chain of command when he allowed Purisima to participate in its planning.
In their complaint led against Aquino last year, the bereaved families said the former President should be held accountable for authorizing the Jan. 25, 2015 operation and for failing to order a rescue as the commandos were being slaughtered.
Purisima was later suspended as PNP chief over the alleged anomalous courier service deal the PNP entered under his leadership.
VACC legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio, who also acted as the lawyer for the families of the slain commandos, said they will file a motion for reconsideration on or before Wednesday the Office of the Ombudsman.
He vowed that the VACC will exert all efforts to push the homicide case against Aquino.
“More than command responsibility…[there is] criminal negligence. Kasi sa sobra-sobrang kapabayaan, may namatay po,” Topacio said.
Topacio added that “the fact na there were 44 who died, bakit graft? Eh hindi naman pagnanakaw ang pinag-uusapan dito e andaming namatay,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer also questioned the timing of the Ombudsman’s resolution.
“Pero kahit weekend tatrabahuhin ko ‘to mai-appeal lang namin,” the lawyer said.
Topacio said the SAF 44 relatives would soon be traveling to Manila to sign the motion for reconsideration. He said the legal team is rushing to get travel funds for them as they have to meet the deadline for the filing of the motion.
The VACC leadership, meanwhile, expressed fears that the downgrading of the charges may eventually lead to dismissal.
“The VACC condemns the resolution made by Morales. Why? Because we filed a criminal complaint not just a mere administrative or minor criminal offense which is usurpation,” VACC founding chairman and president Dante Jimenez said.
“Ombudsman Morales ‘wag mo kaming gagag*hin! Nagngingitngit ang mga pamilya. Tumatawag sa amin bakit hindi raw doon sa finile namin na reckless imprudence resulting to homicide [Don’t fool us. The families of SAF 44 are calling us asking why you did not recommended the filing of the case on reckless impudence resulting to homicide?],” Jimenez said.
Jimenez alleged that the recommended usurpation of authority charge against Aquino may eventually be dismissed as the former president’s lawyers may play with the “loopholes” on the case.
“Whitewash ito. Leading to dismissal sa kasong ‘to!” the VACC chief said.
Aquino administration’s bid for peace in Mindanao as members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were implicated in the bloodbath.
Aquino’s camp, through spokesperson Abigail Valle, is also planning to seek reconsideration of his indictment, saying “there may have been a misappreciation of some facts surrounding the incident, leading to some erroneous conclusions.”
Palace Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, said that it respects the mandate of Morales and hoped that justice will be served to the families of the slain police commandos.
Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, for his part, said that the former President will soon pay the price of his incompetence.
“Sooner or later, the law will catch up on those who use power or wealth to shield themselves from the majesty of the law. There is a time for reckoning and the time has finally come for the former President,” Panelo said in a statement.
“Dura Lex Sed Lex, no power nor wealth can escape from it, it can only delay its coming, but when it does, it operates ex propio vigore [with full force and effect],” he added.
Aside from the VACC and the families of the SAFF 44, the senators also weighed in on Morales’ recommendation, and as expected, offered differing opinions.
“With all due respect to the findings and order of the Ombudsman to file criminal charges against former President Aquino, I stand by the findings and conclusions of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs per its Committee Report No. 120 of March 18, 2015,” said Senator Franklin Drilon.
But for Senator Grace Poe, the move of the Office of the Ombudsman against the former Chief Executive must be respected.
“Let us allow the mandated legal institutions to perform their duties as they act on this case and allow the former president to present his defense. In the end we should respect whatever the outcome will be, so we, as a nation will be able to put closure to this incident. However, we do hope that in the end, justice will truly be served,” said Poe.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of Liberal Party, the political party of Mr. Aquino, said they are hoping Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales will oversee the handling of the case with fairness.
“The Liberal Party expresses its faith in the ability of former President Aquino to defend his actions before, during and after the tragic Mamasapano event. We also express our trust in Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales that she will oversee this necessary process of truth-seeking with fairness and credibility,” he said.
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