THE COUNTRY’S anti-graft court may now proceed with the trial involving the 2015 deaths of 44 policemen in a botched counter-terrorism raid in the Mindanao region after the Supreme Court lifted an order stopping the proceedings.

This paves the way for the anti-graft court to act on a plea by Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires to remove former President Benigno S.C. Aquino III from the charge sheet.

Trial has not started and the accused have yet to enter their pleas.

“The Supreme Court has lifted the temporary restraining order on the Mamasapano trial before the Sandiganbayan,” court spokesman Brian Keith F. Hosaka said in a mobile-phone message yesterday.

The Ombudsman charged Mr. Aquino, his former police chief Alan Purisima and former police Special Action Force Director Getulio P. Napeñas, Jr. with graft and usurpation of authority in connection with the incident.

But Mr. Martires later said the ex-president could not have usurped power since he was the country’s chief executive.

The high court suspended the trial in February last year after the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and families of the slain cops asked it to overturn an order by former Ombudsman Conchita C. Morales to downgrade the charges to usurpation of authority from the 44 counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.

Mr. Aquino allegedly bypassed the chain of command for the police operation l in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province where 44 commandos died in a clash with Muslim rebels, a police investigative body said at that time. He also let his police chief, a close friend, take part in the planning and execution of the mission while he was suspended for a graft probe.

The president had said he was misled about details of the raid that targeted Mamasapano, an area inhabited by fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter group. Aside from the 44 police officers, 18 Muslim rebels also died in the clash.

The presidential palace declined to comment on the latest Supreme Court order, saying it does not interfere with the functions of a co-equal branch.

“We believe that the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan can tackle this matter with independence pursuant to their respective mandates,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas