At least two relatives of police commandos killed in the 2015 Mamasapano incident filed a multiple homicide complaint against former President Benigno Aquino III, a day after he lost his immunity from suit.
Together with Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), Erlinda Alliaga, mother of slain Police Officer 3 Robert Alliaga and Warlito Mejia, father of slain PO2 Ephraim Mejia, filed the 36-page complaint on Friday.
The complainants were assisted by the VACC, led by its chairman Dante Jimenez, and legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio.
The complainants said Aquino, who stepped down from office on Thursday after completing his six-year term, should be held liable for 44 counts of Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Homicide under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) over the deaths of the 44 police commandos.
Under the RPC each count of reckless imprudence resulting to homicide is punishable by six months of imprisonment.
Alleged criminal negligence
"Aquino's criminal negligence consisted of planning Oplan Exodus with gross and inexcusable neglect and thereafter approved the operation knowing it was flawed," the complaint read.
Named as Aquino's co-accused in the complaint were former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and former PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas Jr.
The complainants said Aquino had not only given the go-signal for the implementation of the "flawed" Oplan Exodus but also allowed Purisima, who was at that time under a preventive suspension, to lead the planning and implementation of the operation.
In a statement on Friday, Aquino said, “I have instructed my lawyers to study possible actions at the appropriate time against those who instigate the filing of frivolous cases, which are nothing more than harassment. ”
Oplan Exodus, was the PNP-SAF operation aimed at arresting high-profile targets, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman.
Purisima was then under preventive suspension as he was being investigated for corruption allegations before the Office of the Ombudsman.
It was earlier revealed during Congress investigations that Aquino met Purisima and Napeñas at the Bahay Pangarap in the Malacañang on January 9, 2015 to discuss the final details of Oplan Exodus, the operation carried out by the SAF troopers on January 25.
It was reportedly after that meeting that Purisima told Napeñas to withhold the information about the operation from then acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina and then Interior Sectary Mar Roxas.
“Another criminal negligence of Aquino was allowing then suspended PNP Chief Purisima, not only to participate in the planning of 'Oplan Exodus' but in the running thereof during, and even in giving information and intelligence whilst the operation was ongoing," the complaint read.
“The President himself admitted that all the communication regarding Oplan Exodus emanating from him to Napeñas, and vice-versa, was being coursed through a then suspended PDG (Police Director General) Purisima," the complaint said, quoting the Senate Report on the Mamasapano incident.
"The foregoing shows that the President knew that PDG Purisma was exercising official functions despite the latter’s preventive suspension, and did nothing to prevent it,” it added.
On Purisima, the complainants said he illegally performed functions while under a preventive suspension and also witheld information from Espina, Roxas, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
On Napeñas, the complainants said he allowed himself to be directed by Purisima knowing that the latter had no legal authority to give orders at that time due to his suspension.
The complainants further said Napeñas also planned Oplan Exodus “negligently, imprudently, unskillfully and without any forward vision”.
“Had there been prior coordination with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) reinforcing elements could have been easily placed on standby, air assets could have been pre-positioned and forward observer units from the Army could have been embedded with the PNP-SAF operation units in case the need for indirect fire support arose,” the complaint read.
“More lives could have been saved and fewer lives could have been lost,” it added.
Napeñas, for his part, questioned the VACC's "virtues and values" after he was included in the complaint despite helping the group with information about the operation.
He recounted how VACC chairman Dante Jimenez requested to meet him some months ago about the complaint the group was planning to file against Aquino.
“Tinawagan ko siya sabi ko di ba nag-meet tayo, binigay ko sa’yo lahat ng facts tapos isinama n’yo pala ako sa complaint. Ang sagot niya sa akin kailangan daw ng legal team nila na isama ako. Tama ba ‘yun?” Napeñas asked.
Testimonies of victims, families
Attached in the complaint were 1,782 pages of annexes containing testimonies of witnesses including the families of the victims as well as the reports of various agencies which conducted investigation of the incident.
In an interview with reporters after the filing of the complaint, Topacio said he is confident that the evidence that they have gathered would warrant the filing of a case against Aquino, despite the Ombudsman's previous decision clearing him of any liability in the incident.
“Ang kaibahan po nito ay makikita na natin ang mga karagdagang mga ebidensya. Amin pong hinihiling sa Ombudsman ay tignan po ang conclusion ng mga report – ng Senado at ng PNP, maliwanag na maliwanag doon na sinabi nila na si Aquino ay may liability,” Topacio said.
The Ombudsman earlier conducted a motu propio investigation on Aquino’s possible liability on the Mamasapano incident but eventually concluded that there is no sufficient ground or evidence to recommend the filing of cases against him.
The Ombudsman instead ordered the filing of graft and usurpation of authority cases against Purisima and Napeñas before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. The cases have yet to reach the court as of posting time.
Topacio maintained that there was no criminal intent on the respondents’ part, their negligence, especially of Aquino, have caused the death of the police commandos.
“Yung reckless imprudence resulting to homicide, kapabayaan ito. Negligence, imprudence, lack of foresight and lack of skill. Wala pong criminal intent na patayin, ngunit dahil po sa kapabayaan ay may namatay po,” Topacio said.
“Wala po itong iniwan sa isang nagmamaneho ng sasakyan, na sa kapabayaan niya ay may nasagasaan at namatay. Siya (Aquino) po ang nagmamaneho ng estado, siya po ang nagmamaneho ng kapulisan. Siya po ay naging pabaya sa pagmamaneho. Namatay po ang 44 na pulis. Siya po ay dapat managot,” he added.
The operation, carried out in a remote village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, went awry after the SAF commandos were overpowered by the combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and some private armed groups in the area.
The SAF troopers killed Marwan during the operation but Usman managed to escape. Usman was reportedly killed by the MILF in May of the same year.
The Mamasapano incident left over 60 people dead including 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF members, five BIFF members and three civilians.
The incident caused a national outrage and had put in question the ongoing peace negotiation between the government and the MILF.
It also eventually caused several lawmakers to withdraw support on the Malacañang-proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would have paved the way for the creation of an autonomous political entity in Mindanao. — VVP, GMA News