MANILA — On the eve of the second anniversary of the Mamasapano clash that claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force troops, state prosecutors finally filed charges at the Sandiganbayan against two top police officials who bypassed the chain of command in planning the botched operation.
Dismissed Philippine National Police Director-General Alan Purisima and retired Special Action Forces Director Getulio Napeñas were formally charged on Tuesday for usurpation of authority under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code.
They were also charged for violating Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits the act of persuading a public officer to violate rules and regulations. Assistant Special Prosecutor Reza Casila-Derayunan recommended that bail be fixed at a total of P20,000 each for the two officials. Acting Assistant Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Dennis Garcia and 4th SAF Battalion Commander, Police Superintendent Hendrix Mangaldan are two of the witnesses to be presented.
Although Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales first issued a finding of probable cause to press charges in April and denied their appeals in June, it took prosecutors seven months to finally bring the case to the anti-graft court.
During the Jan. 25, 2015 encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, 44 elite commandos were killed by the rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and various private armed groups.
Controversy flared after it was revealed that then President Benigno Aquino III entrusted the operation to neutralize two terror targets to his close friend Purisima despite his suspension pending a probe on an unrelated graft case involving the delivery of firearms licenses.
The charge sheet for usurpation of authority stated that Purisima took part in the so-called Oplan Exodus “under pretense of official position and without being lawfully entitled to do so.”
Allegedly, the suspended police chief constantly asked for pre-operational updates from Napeñas; he also approved the final date and time-on-target coordination of the operation.
These acts were committed despite “both accused fully knowing Purisima’s preventive suspension from office, to the damage of public interest.”
As for the graft charge, Purisima allegedly induced Napeñas to violate the PNP Chain of Command, and the Ombudsman’s Dec. 10, 2014 preventive suspension order.
Purisima also allegedly convinced Napeñas to violate officer-in-charge Deputy Director-General Leonardo Espina’s Special Order No. 9851, which directed suspended PNP officers to cease and desist from performing their duties and functions.
Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II were effectively “eased out” of the operations, the charge sheet narrated.
Not only was the suspension order violated, the two officials allegedly disregarded the fact that “it was Espina who had the authority to oversee the preparation for and conduct of Oplan Exodus.”
The case information did not make any explicit reference to the two officials’ coordination with the Malacañang.
These specific charges stemmed from the complaint filed by the special panel of field investigators convened in the aftermath of the clash. The investigating team also entertained the separate complaints by lawyers Fernando Perito, Pedrito Nepomuceno and Augusto Syjuco Jr.
When the fact-finding probe was concluded in July 2015, investigators only forwarded a case that named the following as respondents: Purisima and Napeñas, as well as Chief Supt. Fernando Mendez, Jr., Supt. Noli Taliño, Senior Supt. Richard Dela Rosa, Senior Supt. Edgar Monsalve, Senior Supt. Abraham Abayari, Senior Supt. Raymund Train, Senior Supt. Michael John Mangahis, Senior Supt. Rey Ariño and Senior Insp. Recaredo Marasigan.
The investigators did not name Aquino as a respondent in the case because they found no evidence pointing to his criminal accountability. Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said in July 2015 that Aquino’s participation “did not amount to a criminal offense as he in fact ordered that they should coordinate the implementation of the operations.”
At the end of the preliminary investigation stage in April 2016, Morales ended up approving the indictment of only Purisima and Napeñas, and dismissing the case against the nine other police officers.
At the same time, she also found the two officials administratively liable for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. They were perpetually barred from public office and their retirement benefits were forfeited.
When Aquino lost his presidential immunity upon finishing his term, three batches of slain SAF troopers’ relatives filed criminal complaints against him in July. Aquino was accused of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide as a result of his alleged negligence in approving the flawed operation.
These complaints against Aquino remain pending before the Ombudsman. During a recent interview on Jan. 6, Morales said her office might wrap up its investigation on the former president before her retirement in 2018.
Separately, charges for the complex crime of direct assault with murder are pending against nearly 90 armed rebels before the Cotabato court.
They were charged in connection with the deaths of 35 police commandos belonging to the 55th Special Company, the blocking force annihilated at a cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town.
The DoJ only approved their indictment in August under the new government. During the tail-end of the Aquino administration, acting Secretary Emmanuel Caparas admitted that “certain sensitivities” were at play for the delay.
But, the DoJ has so far indicted no one for the deaths of the nine members of the 84th Seaborne, the main assault unit that attacked the hut of wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, at Barangay Pidsandawan. State investigators under the DoJ’s attached agencies could not gather enough evidence to build up a case.
The Jan. 25, 2015 carnage led to doubts about the government’s peace process with the MILF and eventually killed the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in the 16th Congress.
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SOURCE: YOUTUBE, INQUIRER