Massacre raps vs Purisima, Napeñas junked: Sandiganbayan: Cases defective

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    CITING insufficiency of evidence and a defective case, the Sandiganbayan yesterday dismissed all criminal charges filed in 2017 against then PNP chief Alan Purisima and former PNP Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas in connection with their alleged illegal involvement in an anti-terrorist operation that left 44 policemen dead in 2015.

    A special division of five justices of the Fourth Division ruled that the graft case filed against the two former police officials is defective for lack of a key element – that Purisima offered anything to Napeñas by way of material gain.

    Associate Justice and Fourth Division chairman Alex L. Quiroz penned the 19-page majority resolution concurred in by Associate Justices Reynaldo P. Cruz and Michael Frederick L. Musngi.

    The lone dissent came from Associate Justice Bayani H. Jacinto while Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang submitted a separate opinion containing both her concurrence and dissent on some portions of the ruling.

    Likewise, the anti-graft court held that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause in the charge of usurpation of official functions against them.

    The cases stemmed from the implementation of Oplan Exodus which was launched for the arrest of terrorist bomber Zulkifli Abdhir alias “Marwan” and his accomplice, Akmad Ahmad Batabol alias “Basit Usman,” five years ago in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

    On Jan. 25, 2015, Marwan was killed by SAF troopers at the first encounter while Basit Usman managed to flee.

    A botched withdrawal maneuver, however, resulted in the Special Action Force (SAF) policemen getting caught by other hostile armed elements in the area.

    During a firefight that lasted several hours, 44 SAF troopers were killed.

    Aside from Purisima and Napeñas, then President Benigno Aquino III was also charged with similar criminal offenses. However, the cases against Aquino were dismissed on Aug. 22, 2019 on a motion for withdrawal of the information by Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

    Martires argued that being the President of the Republic of the Philippines, there is no legal basis to prosecute Aquino for the charges leveled against him because all executive authorities emanated from his office.

    According to the charge sheet, it was Purisima who gave instructions to, and received reports and recommendations from Napeñas.

    In the process, investigators said Purisima eased out Leonardo Espina, acting PNP chief, and then Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas even if they should have the ones who had the authority to oversee the preparation and conduct of Oplan Exodus.

    (Espina was acting PNP chief because Purisima was serving a suspension order of the

    Ombudsman, issued in December 2014, in connection with administrative charges of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty stemming from an anomalous contract with a courier service firm.)

    REMUNERATION

    On the case of usurpation of official functions, Purisima and Napeñas were accused of acting in conspiracy because the suspended PNP chief assumed an official position he was not entitled to and participated in the discussion and planning of Oplan Exodus.

    The Sandiganbayan said there is no violation of Section 3 (a) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law if it is not alleged and established that there is a receipt or at least an expectation to receive any consideration in return for the use of influence.

    “There is no mention in the information, nor any evidence on record, that accused Napeñas received or expected to receive any material remuneration. Consequently, the Court cannot proceed with issuing a warrant or arrest and further trying him for his charge,” the court said.

    As for the usurpation case, the court declared that there is insufficient evidence to proceed to trial against the accused.

    It noted that with the dismissal of the cases against Aquino, there is no longer any basis to proceed with the prosecution of Purisima or Napeñas.

    “The orders to accused Purisima … directly came from Aquino, who cannot be accused of and be found liable for usurpation of official functions. Necessarily therefore, accused Purisima could not have been under the pretense of official function,” the court said.

    “In other words, then President Aquino could not have usurped the functions of the PNP chief, such position being merely subordinate to that of the President of the Philippines,” the Sandiganbayan added.