Aquino posts bail ahead of arrest order

Former President Benigno Aquno III heads for the Sandiganbayan to post bail. —JOAN BONDOC

Former President Benigno Aquino III on Friday posted a P40,000 bail for the usurpation of authority and graft charges the Office of the Ombudsman had filed against him in connection with the 2015 Mamasapano debacle that resulted in the deaths of 44 police commandos.

Aquino posted bail at the Sandiganbayan five hours after the case was raffled off to the antigraft court’s Third Division.

“I was briefed that if the information is filed, an arrest warrant is automatically issued. We decided to exercise my right to bail. We just prepared for it,” Aquino said in Filipino during a press conference in his house on Times Street in Quezon City.

“He has always said that he is ready to face charges against him and he has always signified his cooperation with the legal process,” Aquino’s spokesperson, Abigail Valte, told the Inquirer.

The court took Aquino’s fingerprints as part of the bail requirements. The former President also submitted six pictures in lieu of a mugshot.

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

He arrived at the Sandiganbayan at 4 p.m. just hours after the case landed in the Third Division, chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, whom the former President appointed to head the antigraft court in October 2013.

First appointee

With Tang in the division are Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Sarah Jane Fernandez.

Bernelito Fernandez, a former Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge, is President Duterte’s first appointee to the  Sandiganbayan. He is son of a Marcos-era Tanodbayan justice.

Sarah Jane Fernandez was one of the last court appointees of Aquino. She was an assistant solicitor general before the former President appointed her to the Sandiganbayan in May 2016.

The former President was accompanied to the Sandiganbayan by his sisters Ballsy, Pinky and Viel; brother-in-law, Manolo Abellada; nephew Miguel Abellada; cousin Sen. Bam Aquino; political allies, including Sen. Frank Drilon, Rep. Bolet Banal, former Cabinet members Edwin Lacierda, Jun Abaya, Proceso Alcala, and Mel Sarmiento; and his personal staff.

Ombudsman prosecutors charged Aquino with usurpation of authority for allowing the involvement of suspended Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima in the planning and execution of “Oplan Exodus,” the police operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

The graft information stated that Aquino unlawfully “persuaded, induced or influenced” Purisima to violate the PNP chain of command and the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension order.

Asked if she would inhibit herself from Aquino’s trial, Tang said that being an appointee of the former President was not a legal ground for inhibition.

“The court will never shirk from its responsibility to dispense justice. There are legal grounds for inhibition and having been appointed by the accused is not one of the legal grounds for inhibition,” she said.

Tang said the records of Aquino’s case would now be transmitted to the Third Division which would “determine the existence or absence (of probable cause).”

Constitutional right

“If there is probable cause, the court will issue a warrant of arrest. Otherwise, if the court does not find the existence of probable cause, it has two options,” the presiding justice said.

The court may require the prosecution to submit additional evidence or it could just dismiss the case, she said.

Asked if Aquino was correct in posting bail even before the court could determine if there was probable cause in the case, Tang said: “Since the right to bail is a constitutional right, it can be exercised anytime, provided that the cases are bailable in nature.”

“But the ideal situation is, probable cause should first be made before any warrant of arrest may be issued and therefore, the grant or denial of bail,” Tang said.

During his press conference, Aquino made a detailed presentation of the briefing he received from then Special Action Force (SAF) Director Getulio Napeñas in the operation to take down Marwan.

Aquino recalled that despite his reminders to Napeñas to coordinate the Mamasapano operation with the military, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other agencies, the SAF commander failed to do so.

He learned that “more and more people” were unaware of the operation on the morning of Jan. 25, 2015 while he was on his way to Zamboanga City for a security briefing on reports of a planned Abu Sayyaf attack in the city.

“Napeñas was nowhere to be found. When I finally got to talk to him, he sounded disoriented. It turned out, what we wanted to avoid already happened,” Aquino said.

Certain groups such as the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption earlier insisted that Aquino should have been charged with homicide for the deaths of the SAF commandos.

“The truth is, I already thought at that time, I was the one insisting on lessening the risk toward this operation and yet I am the one being charged for being reckless,” Aquino added.

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