The Phillipine Office of the Ombudsman charged the countries ex-president, Benigno Aquino, with fraud and usurpation of official functions earlier this week. The charges are incredibly significant for the country as they relate directly to the 2015 botched Mamasapano raid that led to the deaths of 44 Philippine police officers. The charges of fraud and usurpation are related to Aquino allowing the then suspended police chief, Alan Purisima, to lead an operation to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir. The operation, which led to the deaths of 44 Special Action Force officers (SAF), 18 rebels and 5 civilians, went south after the SAF ran into Moro rebels in the town of Mamasapano.
Aquino is charged both with breaching Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code, which establishes that it is an offence to perform “duties of a public officer without being lawfully entitled to do so,” and the Anti-Graft law, which “prohibits any public officer from persuading, inducing, or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations.” If the charges are proven, Aquino could face a jail sentence of 10 years and disqualification from public office.
The move has been met by public support and public reflection upon the impact the event has had on the countries law enforcement. Jamela Alindogan told Al Jazeera that “just like most Philippine presidents, Aquino preferred working with close friends and allies… 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.” Alindogan went on to note that the raid “caused a rift between the Philippine military and the country’s national police. A senate inquiry was live on television, and helped the public to see just how reckless this decision was.”
The Ombudsmen’s rigorous enforcement of the countries Revised Penal Code and Anti-Graft laws need to be applauded. Regardless of the result of these charges, they mark a win for government accountability and anti-corruption activists in the region.
Prior to these charges, the Ombudsman had investigated, and subsequently cleared Aquino of, homicide charges. In their decision, which was delivered on July 14, the Ombudsman said that Aquino was “still liable for the deaths of the 44 members of the Philippine National Police SAF forces.” The homicide charges remain an issue for the politician as the families of the SAF 44 consider filing a petition with the Supreme Court to challenge the Ombudsman’s findings claiming Aquino should “be charged with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.”
While the most recent charges against Aquino bring with them mixed feelings for the families of the SAF 44, it is a promising sign for civil rights in the Philippines. Just 20 years ago Transparency International ranked the Country as the 9th most corrupt in the world, but last year the country came in at 101st; a phenomenal improvement that has been facilitated by the actions of the countries Ombudsman and the anti-graft laws.