SAF 44 and 'Oplan Exodus' in Mamasapano, Maguindanao

On Jan. 25, 2015, 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, at least 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and seven civilians were killed in the botched “Oplan Exodus” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

Oplan Exodus was the counterterrorism operation launched by the Philippine National Police to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who had a $5-million price on his head offered by the US Department of Justice. Marwan was killed in the operation.

Two years after the botched operation, in July 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman filed in the Sandiganbayan charges of graft and usurpation of official functions against former President Benigno Aquino III, former PNP Director General Alan Purisima and Chief Supt. Getulio Napeñas, the former SAF commander, for bypassing the PNP chain of command, leading to the deadly clash with Moro rebels and their armed allies.

But they were cleared of the more serious charge of reckless imprudence.

In November 2017, Aquino posted a P40,000 bail in cash—P30,000 for the graft case and P10,000 for the usurpation of authority charge.

In January 2018, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to order the Ombudsman to file cases of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino for the death of 44 SAF commandos.

In February 2018, acting on a motion filed by relatives of some of the slain SAF troopers and an anticrime group that Aquino should face a more serious charge than graft, the Supreme Court directed the Ombudsman to temporarily set aside its two decisions that saved Aquino from standing trial for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide.

The high court also included the Sandiganbayan as respondent in the case, ordering the antigraft court to postpone Aquino’s arraignment for a less serious offense of usurpation of authority and graft. —INQUIRER RESEARCH

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