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An anti-corruption body in the Philippines has ordered that criminal charges be filed against former President Benigno S. Aquino III for the corrupt handling of a police raid in 2015 that left 44 commandos dead.
On Wednesday, the Office of the Ombudsman found Mr. Aquino guilty of fraud and usurpation of official functions. These charges arose due to the improper management of the operation to arrest a suspected bomb-maker in Mamasapano, Mindanao. Al Jazeera reporter, Jamela Alindogan, noted that “Just like most Philippine presidents, Aquino preferred working with close friends and allies.”
The charges arose due to evidence of corruption within the planning and execution of the raid. Ex-President, Aquino, allowed the already suspended police chief Alan Purisima to lead the raid in 2015. This was despite the fact that Mr. Purisima had already been dismissed from office due to a previous fraud case. Ms. Alindogan, stated that “Purisima was present at a meeting when the Mamasapano raid was planned, thereby bypassing the hierarchy of the Philippine military and the battalion commanders on the ground.”
The operation, code-named Oplan Exodus, began without the knowledge of other security officials. Around 400 highly trained police commandos took part in the attack, in the southern town of Mamasapano in an area controlled by guerrillas from the Muslim insurgent group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Despite Mr. Purisima being under preventative suspension, cellphone messages between Mr. Aquino and Mr. Purisima showed that Mr. Purisima played an active and major role in the operation.
After several hours of fighting, and the death of 44 commandos, the officers who carried out the operation managed to neutralize their target: Zulkifli bin Hir, a top Malaysian bomb-maker. The United States government had offered a $5 million reward for his capture or killing.
Whilst the mission was successful, it was also one of the deadliest fights ever for the government forces.
Many analysts consider the attack as being the catalyst for the rise of the current President, Rodrigo Duterte. The attack highlighted the tension between the military of the Philippine’s and the national police, showing the need for unity between the bodies to ensure sustainable peace. Moreover, a live TV senate inquiry emphasized the recklessness of the decision and the need for a government that was tough on crime and corruption.
The attack not only caused internal unrest, but further derailed peace talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an armed group negotiating with the government for greater autonomy for the Moro people in the south.
Prior to the Mamsapano attack, the government was working with the separatist group, MILF, to put a bill to Congress that would grant self-rule over the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao island. However, the attacks stalled the bill and the peace talks have been pending ever since.
With that said, current President, Rodrigo Dueterte, has made attempts to resume the discussions. A new version of the bill has been written and it is expected to be put to Congress sometime this year. The bill will attempt to tackle one of the country’s most impoverished regions through limiting the influence of the Islamic State group and preventing the rise of radicalism.