MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan's Third Division on Friday, December 1, approved the motion to consolidate the Mamasapano cases of former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino with other similar cases at the court's Fourth Division.
The cases were earlier raffled to the Third Division, chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, Aquino's appointee. The Office of the Ombudsman motioned to consolidate Aquino's case with similar charges pending before the 4th Division against former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief director general Alan Purisima, and ex-PNP Special Action Force (SAF) director Getulio Napeñas.
"Finding the grounds to be meritorious, the same motion is hereby granted," Tang said in an open court hearing on Friday.
Aquino's lawyer Joseph De Jesus did not oppose it.
The raffle to Tang's division inevitably brought up questions of partiality. Tang is not new to accusations of bias by virture of her being an Aquino appointee.
Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and former Makati City mayor Elenita Binay have appealed that Tang inhibit herself from their cases.
The 4th Division is chaired by Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, an appointee of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The members are Associate Justice Reynaldo Cruz, an Aquino appointee, and Associate Justice Bayani Jacinto, who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Before the consolidation, on the same day it was raffled, the Third Division found probable cause to put Aquino on trial. The former president also posted bail the same day.
The consolidation is for purposes of “saving time and litigation costs considering that they will appear before a single court which shall hear the totality” of the cases.
The Ombudsman filed the cases against Purisima and Napeñas January this year.
Aquino's graft and usurpation of authority charges are a consequence of his alleged conspiracy with Purisima to undermine rules and authorities, and one which compromised the Mamasapano operations of 2015.
The botched operations led to the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police.
The Mamasapano charges are Aquino's first since stepping down from the presidency. Graft and usurpation complaints against him over the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP have been dropped by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, but that is still on appeal.