Manila: Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino is to be charged over a botched anti-terror raid that left 44 elite policemen dead in 2015, a special government prosecutor said Friday.
Aquino, who ended his six-year term last year, was indicted for usurping authority and allowing a suspended police chief, Alan Purisima, to run the fatal January 2015 commando raid, the government Ombudsman said.
“Purisima would not have been placed in such a position ... were it not for the complicity and influence of President Aquino,” Ombudsman Conchita Morales said in a statement.
Supporters of Aquino’s successor, President Rodrigo Duterte, had also filed a complaint of “reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide”, against Aquino but Morales dismissed this.
Aquino, who could face several years in prison if convicted, is studying the Ombudsman’s order so as to file a motion for reconsideration, a statement from his aide said.
“An initial reading shows that there may have been a misappreciation of some facts surrounding the incident, leading to some erroneous conclusions,” the Aquino statement added.
The police commandos were dispatched on an anti-terror mission to the rural, southern town of Mamasapano and killed Malaysian suspect Zulkifli Abdhir, who was on the US government’s most wanted list.
The policemen were later ambushed by Muslim militants and other gunmen, leaving 44 officers dead in an incident that shook the nation.
As a result of the carnage, the Philippine Congress refused to pass a Muslim self-rule bill that would have crowned Aquino’s efforts to bring lasting peace to the rebellion-torn Mindanao region, home to the Catholic nation’s large Islamic minority.
Morales alleged Aquino had violated the law by assigning leadership of the mission to an official who was serving out a suspension at the time over allegations of corruption.
The bloodbath, infamously known as the “Mamasapano Massacre”, helped to turn public opinion against Aquino, who later unsuccessfully campaigned to prevent the election of Duterte as his successor.
Duterte has frequently raised the Mamasapano incident as proof of Aquino’s alleged misdeeds.
Reacting to the Ombudsman’s announcement, Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said that he hailed the “heroic sacrifice” of the slain police commandos.
“It is his — and the nation’s — hope to finally bring justice to the victims and families of the Fallen 44 and put closure to the issue as part of the healing process,” Abella added of the current president.