Allies of former President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday took the cudgels for the former chief executive, who was ordered charged by the Ombudsman with the criminal raps of graft and usurpation of authority for his alleged hand in the Mamasapano tragedy.
The opposition lawmakers who compose the minority in Congress defended the former President in a press conference at the sidelines of the alternative State of the Nation Address (Sona) “So Ano Na?” where they gave a real assessment of President Rodrigo Duterte’s first year in office.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said she believed the President would face his graft and usurpation indictment over the 2015 botched anti-terror raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers.
“Naniniwala po ako na haharapin ito ni dating Pangulong Aquino at sasagutin ang buong katotohanan ayon sa kanyang karanasan,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros said she continues to look up to the Office of the Ombudsman as an institution that brings justice to alleged graft offenses.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for his part said he is confident Aquino can defend himself from the charges before the Sandiganbayan.
“I’m confident na kayang depensahin ni President Aquino ang kaniyang sarili,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes said he found it incredulous that Aquino would be indicted for graft and usurpation of authority, for allegedly violating the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension of dismissed Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima by authorizing Purisima in the planning and execution of “Oplan Exodus.”
Aquino’s graft indictment involved violating Section 3(a) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly violating the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension on Purisima, who was later dismissed from service for his graft indictment in the anomalous Werfast gun courier contract.
“There is no graft dito sa Mamasapano case na ito, walang usurpation of authority. Commander-in-chief siya eh, ginamit ang chain of command. Sino ang gagamitin mong testigo dito?” Trillanes said.
Trillanes said there is nothing illegal in the exchange of text messages between Aquino and Purisima, cited as evidence by the Ombudsman in showing that Aquino used his influence to allow Purisima in executing Oplan Exodus despite the latter’s graft suspension.
“Nag-uusap sila, nagtetext man sila ni General Purisima, hindi bawal ‘yun dahil kaibigan niyang personal si General Purisima,” Trillanes said.
“’Yung suspension ni Purisima, hindi ibig sabihin bawal na magtext ang Presidente sa kanya,” he added.
Trillanes said Aquino could not be held liable for usurping authority because he as the commander-in-chief ordered his subordinates to coordinate with their superiors in carrying out the Mamasapano raid.
Aquino was ordered charged for usurping authority in conspiracy with Purisima and sacked SAF commander Getulio Napeñas, who were earlier charged before the Sandiganbayan with graft and usurpation of powers for allegedly bypassing the chain of command.
Purisima and Napeñas’ usurpation indictment stemmed from their failure to coordinate with the military about the Mamasapano raid, which caused the delayed deployment of reinforcements as the elite cops were trapped in the crossfire with the fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other private armed groups.
They were also charged for allegedly bypassing the police chain of command when they kept in the dark then PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas about the operation.
Trillanes said it was Napeñas who failed to comply with Aquino’s supposed order to coordinate with the military and Espina.
Napeñas implemented the time-on-target coordination concept, where the military was informed of the Mamasapano operation only at the time the SAF cops were deployed to the mission.
The time-on-target the Ombudsman said contributed to the delay in deployment of reinforcements, which in turn resulted in heavy casualties on the government forces.
“Kunyare ikaw inutusan ka ng Presidente, dumiretso sayo na kailangang i-inform mo superior mo, ‘yun ang obligation mo. In this case, alam ni General Napeñas chain of command siya. Siya ‘yung may problema, dapat ininform niya ‘yung commander niya si General Espina,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes said Aquino’s indictment sends a “bad precedent” on military commanders that they could be held criminally liable for a failed mission.
For his part, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said he found it incredulous Aquino would be charged with usurpation when he was the commander-in-chief during the botched operation.
“Parang ang hirap isipin, ikaw ang presidente, nag-usurp ka ng authority,” Alejano, a former marine captain, said.
Alejano said only a subordinate can be held liable for violating the chain of command, not the President who is the commander-in-chief.
“Ang chain of command, ang nagva-violate diyan ‘yung subordinate, ‘yung hindi umakyat sa superior. Nag-bypass siya. Pero ‘yung commander, iba-bypass nasa baba niya, hindi ‘yan violation of chain of command. Lahat answerable sa kaniya,” Alejano said.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman cleared Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas from the reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and physical injuries complaint filed against them by the surviving kin of the slain SAF cops.
The Ombudsman ordered the filing of charges against Aquino even as it earlier dismissed the graft and technical malversation complaint filed against him over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), criticized as the executive’s pork barrel.
In the DAP case, only Aquino’s budget secretary Butch Abad was indicted for usurpation of legislative powers for issuing the National Budget Circular 541, which “expanded the meaning of savings under the General Appropriations Act” which was “beyond his authority since this is a power reserved to Congress.”