MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ anti-graft agency ordered on Friday the filing of criminal charges against former president Benigno Aquino over a botched raid two years ago on a militant hideout that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos.
The mission to arrest two al Qaeda-linked militants on the southern island of Mindanao went disastrously wrong when police Special Action Force commandos were ambushed and outnumbered by rebel gunmen, in what was the biggest crisis of Aquino’s 2010-2016 presidency.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Aquino should be indicted because he allowed his suspended police chief, Alan Purisima, to be involved in the planning and execution of the January 2015 raid in Mamasapano, Maguindano province.
“There is no gainsaying that President Aquino was fully aware that the Office of the Ombudsman had placed Purisima under preventive suspension at that time,” Carpio Morales said in a statement.
“A public officer who is under preventive suspension in barred from performing any public functions and from meddling into the affairs of the government,” Carpio Morales said of Purisima, who was serving a suspension over corruption allegations.
The Mamasapano massacre also dealt a blow to Aquino’s vaunted peace efforts with separatists of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had agreed to disarm in return for self-rule over predominantly Muslim parts of Mindanao.
A bill to establish that was subsequently rejected by Congress and has, according to experts, contributed to mistrust, disillusionment and insecurity in a region where Islamic State’s ideology has started to gain traction. A revised bill is expected to be put to Congress in coming weeks.
Aquino’s spokeswoman, Abigail Valte, said the former president felt the full facts surrounding the incident had not been presented.
“An initial reading shows that there may have been a misappreciation of some facts surrounding the incident, leading to some erroneous conclusions,” she said in a statement.
“He will seek to clarify the same through a motion for reconsideration.”
Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel