OPAPP expects Senate concurrence of amnesty measures for ex-rebels

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is expecting a Senate swift concurrence of Presidential Proclamations Nos. 1090 to 1093 granting amnesty to former rebels.

In a statement on Sept. 28, the OPAPP said Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, threw his full support behind Presidential Proclamations Nos. 1090 to 1093 granting amnesty to former rebels.

“There is no problem with the passing of this resolution as far as the Senate is concerned. We will fast track the approval of this concurrent resolution in plenary,” the statement quoted Lacson as saying in a recent hearing.

“In fact, after this hearing, I will submit a report in plenary para ma-discuss and eventually ma-approve even before we go on break,” the senator added.

The OPAPP said the committee hearing was sought by Lacson to deliberate on House Resolutions Nos. 12 to 15 that concur with Proclamations Nos. 1090 to 1093 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte, which grants amnesty to members of rebel groups who have committed crimes in furtherance of their political beliefs.

The House of Representatives has earlier concurred the Proclamations via Res. No. 12  granting amnesty to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members; Res. No. 13 providing the same amnesty to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members; Res. No. 14 pardoning members of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade; and Res. No. 15 pardoning former the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) groups.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. told the hearing that “the spirit of the amnesty is to provide some compassion to former rebels” and is an integral component of the Comprehensive Peace Process under Executive Order No. 3, series of 2001, the OPAPP statement said.

According to Galvez, amnesty is part of the Fourth Path to Peace on “programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society and rehabilitation,” which aims to address the legal status and security of former rebels.

“The amnesty proclamations by the President are products of peace agreements and of programs of the government to reintegrate former rebels into mainstream society,” he explained.

“The grant of amnesty to these former rebels and combatants will provide them not just a new start in life, but ultimately secure their place in society,” Galvez said in urging the Senate to concur with House Concurrent moves.

Article VII, Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution provides that the President of the Philippines, “has the power to grant amnesty with the concurrence of a majority of all the members of the Congress.”

Galvez recalled that he himself received the national government’s amnesty program for former rebel soldiers that were involved in mutiny in 1989.

“Had it not been for the national government’s amnesty program, my career as a military officer would have ended in 1989. The amnesty granted to me by former President Fidel Ramos gave me a new lease on life,” he said.

Galvez pointed out that there is nothing wrong with negotiating with members of rebel or terrorist groups “who have openly expressed their desire to lay down their arms and return to the folds of the law.”

“These rebels must be given the chance to turn a new leaf and return to mainstream society as peaceful and productive individuals. We have seen what happens when these former combatants turn away from armed violence and embrace the path of peace. We are opening our doors for them to start a meaningful transformation,” he said. 

Amnesty: Under the Comprehensive Peace Process

OPAPP Assistant Secretary Wilben Mayor presented at the hearing an overview of the peace agreements signed between the Government of the Philippines and non-state armed groups, the amnesty program, the legal basis for the granting of amnesty, and the Amnesty Commission.

Mayor defined amnesty as “that which overlooks and obliterates the offense with which a person is charged such that the person released by Amnesty stands before the law precisely as though he had committed no offense.”

He said that there are about 12,700 prospective applicants for amnesty covering the period 2022 to 2024, adding the figure is expected to increase once the ongoing survey and validations being conducted by the implementing panels are completed.

On Feb. 5, 2021, the President issued Executive Order No. 125 which created the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) to receive and process applications for amnesty, and determine whether the applicants are entitled to amnesty based on Proclamation Nos. 1090 to 1093.

Defense Undersecretary Reynaldo Mapagu expressed gratitude to the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation for supporting President Duterte’s amnesty proclamations.

“I express our sincerest thanks to the committee on behalf of Sec. Lorenzana for supporting this proclamation of the President so that we can give second chances to former members of the [rebel groups]. “With your support of the Amnesty Proclamation of the President, we can give them a second chance in life,” Mapagu said.

Proscription against terror groups

Meanwhile, Lacson raised the issue of whether a group that has been proscribed as a terrorist organization will still be eligible for amnesty under the said Presidential proclamations.

The senator cited the case of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) that has a pending proscription case filed by the national government with the Regional Trial Court of Manila.

Citing a Department of Justice senior state counsel opinion, Lacson said that “those who are proscribed for crimes under RA 11479 (Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020) may no longer be eligible for the grant of amnesty.”

Galvez responded to Lacson, saying that “there are chances that the terrorists can be amnestied for the purpose of harmonizing the peace and reconciliation policy of the government.”

This is the reason, he said, why they are proposing that the NAC chairman has to be a Supreme Court justice “so that he has the certain background on how we can have a liberal interpretation of the law wherein we can really give the spirit of reconciliation and unity with the formal rebels.” (AGM)

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