Arroyo eyes amnesty for all

Moros, Reds, coup plotters are covered By Michael Lim Ubac
Last updated 02:08am (Mla time) 06/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines—With the legacy of President Macapagal-Arroyo at stake, Malacañang is trying to put together a general amnesty for all “enemies” of the state—communist, military and Moro rebels.


The idea, first disclosed by Speaker Jose de Venecia over dinner with Inquirer editors and reporters two weeks ago, has ripened into a full-blown plan, with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita himself hinting about it yesterday.


“That is not totally out of the picture but part of the peace process,” Ermita said on the phone.


Ermita, who has been advocating reconciliation since before the May 14 polls, said that “somewhere towards the end there will be amnesty, but there’s no instruction yet from the President.”


“In due time the amnesty proclamation will be considered by the President,” said Ermita.


Asked about amnesty for the MILF, he said: “Maybe yes … you can be sure that this is a major policy (of) the President.”


He said a general amnesty was “a major part of the peace process … because after all what is the peace process but silencing the guns and having reconciliation among protagonists?”


Earlier in the day, Ermita laid bare before reporters what could be the extent and coverage of the planned amnesty.


“I recall there were about six amnesty proclamations (in the past) and this covered, one, those rebels who have returned to the folds and one of the conditions is for them to be given amnesty,” Ermita said.


“Then, suddenly it also covered those returnees from the secessionists, then it also covered amnesty for soldiers like RAM (Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa) of (Sen. Gregorio) Honasan, and also covered … those soldiers who have been charged in line with the implementation of their duties,” he said.


The Ramos government, following the peace agreement it signed in 1995 with RAM, granted unconditional amnesty to 3,731 military officers and soldiers involved in the 1987 and 1989 coup attempts.


Ermita pointed out that since the time of President Fidel Ramos, no amnesty proclamation has been sent to Congress.


Renewing the talks


“Now, as part of the peace process, we feel that it will be very helpful that those fighting government will be looking forward to that (amnesty), especially if they know the government will give them a second (chance) …. so they become good citizens.”


Ermita cited the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the renewed efforts to convince the National Democratic Front to go back to the negotiating table.


Talks with the NDF broke down in 2004 after the United States, the European Union (EU) and other states included the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, on the list of terrorist organizations.


Major policy


“But right now we are still in the process of finishing our negotiations with the MILF, we are still in the process of putting back on track our negotiations with the NDF,” he said.


Secret trip to Norway


The other day, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales confirmed that he and Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza had secretly gone to Norway for a possible resumption of negotiations with the NDF.


Gonzales said that during that trip a couple of weeks ago, he and Dureza wanted to “touch base and see the possibilities” for the resumption of stalled talks with the umbrella group of leftist underground organizations.


“We’ve always been open to the possibility of resuming peace talks if important conditions are met, particularly a ceasefire (which) is essential to the peace talks,” Gonzales said.


Need to review policy


Ermita cited the need to review the antiinsurgency policy of the administration in light of the political killings being “unfairly” blamed by leftist groups and the international community on some segments of the military.


“We have the national internal security plan. It is a holistic approach to our counterinsurgency campaign, especially the communist insurgency that is heavy on propaganda,” he said.


“As they go on propaganda, government suffers from propaganda brought about by the charges they level against security forces,” Ermita said.


“As mentioned by the EU ambassador, all these reports on unexplained killings indeed are tarnishing the image of the Philippine government abroad.”


Curb human rights abuses


Therefore, he said, the Arroyo administration has to “emphasize to our forces engaged in counterinsurgency to ensure that human rights violations are avoided, to ensure that there will be no other information that can be a source for charges against the military and the police just in the name of counterinsurgency.”


He agreed on the “need to develop some more awareness” of human rights on the part of the state forces.


Ermita said they should “be aware that there’s a need for us to look into the human rights aspect of our counterinsurgency.”


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