January 25, 2018 / 12:53 PM / 4 months ago

Philippines seeks tougher charges for Aquino over commandos' deaths

MANILA (Reuters) - Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino must be held criminally accountable for negligence that led to the deaths of 44 police commandos in 2015, the government’s top lawyer said in a petition filed at the Supreme Court on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO Philippine President Benigno Aquino arrives at a session of the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris/File Photo

The solicitor general asked the court to direct the ombudsman to file 44 counts of “reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide” against the former president over the botched raid.

A mission to arrest two al Qaeda-linked militants on the southern island of Mindanao went disastrously wrong when police Special Action Force commandos were ambushed and outnumbered by rebel gunmen in what was the biggest crisis of Aquino’s 2010-2016 presidency.

Given that Aquino had full knowledge and approved the January 2015 raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, he “acted with inexcusable negligence, which was the direct proximate cause in the massacre of SAF 44,” the office of the Solicitor General said.

In November, the ombudsman filed charges against Aquino, but for a lesser crimes of usurpation of authority and corruption.

President Rodrigo Duterte has described those charges as “silly”, while Aquino’s spokeswoman, Abigal Valte, has said the full facts surrounding the deaths have yet to be presented.

The Mamasapano killings also dealt a blow to Aquino’s vaunted peace efforts with separatists of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had agreed to disarm in return for self-rule over predominantly Muslim parts of Mindanao.

Duterte has urged Congress to pass a bill granting self-rule to the country’s Muslim minority, warning that its collapse would see separatist rebels abandon a peace process and declare war again.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the government was committed to providing justice to the police commandos who died to prevent a “repeat of the waste of lives or promising future of gallant Filipinos”.

Reporting by Karen Lema

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