CONFLICTS

Philippines' ex-leader faces charges for role in clash

The anti-graft prosecutor in the Philippines on Friday ordered the filing of criminal charges against former President Benigno Aquino III for his alleged liability in a 2015 clash with Muslim rebels that killed 44 police.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Aquino should be charged with usurpation of authority and corruption for allowing the suspended national police chief to play an active role in the operation in southern Mamasapano town, which resulted in the biggest single-day combat loss for Filipino forces in years.

Then national police chief Alan Purisima was under preventive suspension linked to corruption and an acting head of the police force had been named.

Police commandos killed Zulkifli bin Hir, a top Malaysian suspect long wanted by the United States during the Jan. 25, 2015 assault. But the brutal police deaths sparked public outrage. They also prompted lawmakers to delay passage of a key bill to establish a large autonomous region for minority Muslims.

Purisima and another officer are co-conspirators in the case.

Morales said that text messages between Aquino and Purisima showed that the suspended police chief played a major role in the botched operation and blamed it on Aquino's "complicity and influence."

In his response, Aquino said he did not directly participate in the planning and execution of the operation. He said he was only briefed on the broad strokes of the plan and there was no need for him to approve it.

His spokeswoman Abigail Valte said Aquino was consulting his lawyers.

The former president, who served from 2010 until 2016, has been credited with restoring a semblance of political and economic stability in the Philippines and signing a peace deal to try to end a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.