Ex-Philippine president faces charges over botched raid

Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino, seen in a 2015 photo, has been indicted for graft and "usurpation of authority" in connection with a raid on the lair of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir in 2015.
Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino, seen in a 2015 photo, has been indicted for graft and "usurpation of authority" in connection with a raid on the lair of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir in 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

Aquino could be jailed over 2015 anti-terror op that cost lives of 44 cops

An anti-corruption court has indicted former Philippine president Benigno Aquino for graft and "usurpation of authority" over the disastrous raid on the lair of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos in 2015.

In a resolution, ombudsman Conchita Morales ordered the filing of criminal charges against Aquino for his role in the raid that, among others, sidetracked a proposed law that analysts say would have stemmed the rise of Islamist radicalism in war-torn Mindanao.

Standing as his "co-conspirators" were former national police chief Alan Purisima and then police special forces head Getulio Napenas. Aquino, who stepped down last year, could face two to three years' jail if convicted.

Marwan, who had a US$5 million (S$6.9 million) bounty from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, was killed on Jan 25, 2015 during an early-morning raid on his hideout in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province.

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But 44 police commandos in the operation died when they met a much larger force from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters said to be protecting Marwan. It was the biggest loss ever dealt to a police special forces unit.

Congressional hearings showed Napenas was getting instructions from Purisima who, in turn, was liaising with Aquino. Aquino insisted at the time that Napenas hid facts that would have allowed him to get a clearer picture of the situation.

The anti-corruption court is involved as the case is linked to violations of the anti-graft law, specifically on Aquino's purported use of his position as president to involve a suspended police officer, Purisima, in the raid.

Standing as his "co-conspirators" were former national police chief Alan Purisima and then police special forces head Getulio Napenas. Aquino, who stepped down last year, could face two to three years' jail if convicted.

The botched raid sparked public outrage, derailing a peace pact between the government and MILF, and fuelling plots to oust Aquino.

That deal would have led to a law creating an autonomous Islamist region in Mindanao. Analysts believe that had that pushed through, the government could have enlisted the 12,000-strong MILF in its efforts to prevent the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from establishing a foothold in Mindanao.

  • What happened in the raid

  • On Jan 25, 2015, police commandos entered Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province to arrest Malaysian Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, one of the most elusive terrorists in the world.

    They killed Marwan, but the resulting gunshots and explosions alerted hundreds of Muslim rebels in the area who thought they were being attacked.

    The platoon supposed to cover the raiding team's escape route bore the brunt of the counter- attack. They were boxed inside farm lots without cover. They fought for hours, but it took till late in the day before reinforcements could be sent.

    Director Getulio Napenas, the commandos' chief, later testified in Congress that his men died because the military did not immediately respond to his request for artillery fire and air support. But army officers and peace negotiators said he did not inform them about the raid till the fighting had already begun. By then, it was already too late.

    Raul Dancel

Security forces have been battling ISIS-linked militants in Marawi, levelling half the city and forcing 200,000 residents to flee.

The "Mamasapano massacre" turned public opinion against Aquino. His spokesman Abigail Valte said he felt the full facts 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. "He will seek to clarify the same through a motion for reconsideration."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-Philippine president faces charges over botched raid'. Print Edition | Subscribe