Sandiganbayan finds probable cause to put Aquino on trial

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan found probable cause to put former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on trial shortly after he posted bail on Friday, November 10, for charges over the Mamasapano operations.

Before noon on Friday, the charges of graft and usurpation of authority against Aquino were raffled off to the 3rd division, chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, his appointee. 

"The fact will never influence whatever action we will take in the case. We will act objectively based on what is before the court," Tang said.

The case involves the Aquino administration's Oplan Exodus, which sought to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. While Marwan was killed during the operation, and months later, Usman, missteps in the operation led to the death of 44 elite cops and 23 civilians. (READ: President Aquino and the ghosts of Mamasapano)

While it usually takes time, days, or weeks, before the court finds probable cause to issue an arrest warrant, Aquino opted to pay his P40,000 bail in the afternoon of the same day.

Aquino, accompanied by members of his family, arrived at the Sandiganbayan at around 4 pm and personally paid bail.

High-profile Sandiganbayan defendants choose this route, which is allowed by the court, to avoid fanfare.

Just before the court closed on Friday, the 3rd division confirmed it had found probable cause to put Aquino on trial.

Sandiganbayan Third Division Clerk of Court Dennis Pulma said that, as per procedure, a warrant of arrest was signed but it was no longer released because Aquino already posted bail.

A Hold Departure Order (HDO) had also been issued. Aquino is now required to get court permission ahead of any overseas travel.

Arraignment and pre-trial for Aquino is scheduled for January 12, 2018.

This is the first time for Aquino to be charged after his presidency.

The families of the 44 slain troopers of the Special Action Force, collectively called SAF 44, wanted Aquino to be charged with 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, but Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales only proceeded to file graft and usurpation charges against for the former president.

An appeal filed by the SAF 44 kin and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) is pending with the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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