Duterte: Charges vs Aquino bound to fail
MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday defended Benigno Aquino III from the Ombudsman's finding of criminal negligence against the former president in connection with the botched Mamasapano operation in 2015.
Duterte said it was a "silly" decision to charge Aquino with usurpation of authority for consulting then-suspended police chief Alan Purisima about a mission to neutralize Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
Duterte said, Aquino’s actions were justified since he was the commander-in-chief and had the full authority and discretion over any police or military operation.
“Iyung ginawa ng mga pulis pati ni Purisima kung sino doon, kanya ‘yun, because hindi mo masabi usurpation of authority because lahat na ‘yung sinabi nila are merged in one person, the Chief Executive, the President,” Duterte said in a chance interview with reporters in Malacañang.
“He can call anybody to help him fight a criminal operation there.”
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has ordered the indictment of Aquino for graft and usurpation of authority due to the botched mission that led to the deaths of 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) troopers at the hands of lawless elements and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The Ombudsman cited Aquino for "criminal negligence," saying he participated in the "flawed" planning of a police commando raid to capture Marwan.
Marwan was killed during the Mamasapano operation, but ensuing clashes between the SAF, bandits, and Moro rebels in the area resulted in scores of fatalities.
The Ombudsman said Aquino was "fully aware" that Purisima was serving out a suspension over an alleged anomalous courier service deal when the mission, dubbed "Oplan Exodus", was planned.
"In other words, Purisima would not have been placed in such a position of continuing to conduct himself, in relation to Oplan Exodus, in a manner as if he was not under preventive suspension at the time from his position as PNP Chief if not for the complicity and influence of President Aquino," the Ombudsman said in the complaint.
Aquino was heavily criticized for consulting a suspended cop and leaving several officials, including then police officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina, out of the loop regarding the operation.
Aquino, for his part, said then-SAF chief Getulio Napeñas was to blame for the failure of the military to send timely reinforcements to the beleaguered cops, most of whom were cornered by their enemies in the cornfields of Mamasapano. He had also justified his decision to consult Purisima since he was allegedly more familiar about the mission.
Aquino, Purisima, and Napeñas were all charged with graft and usurpation of authority.
Aquino will appeal the indictment, his former deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Duterte, however, said the debate over Aquino’s decision to consult a suspended police chief over the Mamasapano operation was irrelevant.
“Ngayon, kung sino ‘yung utusan niya wala kang pakialam because he has the trust. Wala man… Purisima was not in the operation. He was putting inputs doon,” he said.
“So pagka by ‘yung usurpation, all of those powers are vested in the President," Duterte said.
The President said while the criminal charges are faulty, the blame would obviously be pinned on Aquino since he was the commander-in-chief at the time.
He added, “failures” are part of military operations and nobody may be charged for the botched Mamasapano mission.
Nonetheless, he said the mission was successful “in the sense that they were able to get (a finger) of Marwan” and send it to the United States for confirmation.
The bloodshed sparked public outrage and set back the timeline of a peace accord between the government and the MILF.
With the sincerity of the MILF put into question, legislators became lukewarm towards the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the enabling law of the peace accord.
Duterte issued his opinion on Aquino’s case after a Palace event wherein he received a copy of the new version of the BBL.