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PEACETALK | Four Rebel Group Amnesties: Time Frames, Surrenders, Admission of Guilt, and Processing (3)

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3rd of 5 parts | 2nd part

NAGA CITY (MindaNews / 18 April)—Under Section 2 on Who May File For Amnesty of the new rebel amnesty Proclamations, “the crime for which amnesty may be granted must have been committed prior to the issuance of this Proclamation” which is reckoned at its date, 22 November 2023.

In Proclamation No. 404, a “former member” of the “CPP-NPA-NDF or their front organizations” is “understood to refer to one who… has surrendered to the government, and renounced his rebellious activities.” This obviously encourages surrenders from the C-N-N, while not similarly requiring surrenders for purposes of amnesty in the case of “members” of the three other rebel groups subject of the three other Proclamations. So, here is another instance of naiiba (different in amnesty treatment) as far as the C-N-N is concerned. But the government’s amnesty offer is only an external factor for rebel surrenders, which ultimately depend more on internal factors, whether at the individual rebel level or the rebel organization level. To be clear, amnesty is for individuals (members or former members), not for organizations. But surrender can be both for individuals and for organizations. Surrender can actually be the subject of, but is not inherent in, a peace settlement which could otherwise instead deal with major reforms and/or some power-sharing. The C-N-N has somewhat arrogantly (“holier than thou”) characterized the peace settlements of the RPMP, MILF and MNLF as “surrenders” to the government.  

Under Section 2, “A person who has already been granted amnesty under previous amnesty proclamations shall no longer qualify to apply for amnesty under this Proclamation. For avoidance of doubt, persons who applied for amnesty under previous proclamations whose applications were not considered for having been made outside the reglementary period for filing may apply under this Proclamation.”

Furthermore under Section 2, “An applicant under this Proclamation must, in writing and under oath, admit his or her guilt of the offense for which he or she is criminally liable and shall turn over whatever firearms, weapons, and/or explosives he or she may have in his or her possession upon application for amnesty without incurring liability for illegal possession thereof, notwithstanding the grant or denial of the amnesty application.” Admission of guilt is considered standard enough in amnesty applications, akin to an apology as a premise for seeking forgiveness. In any case, a rebel leader availing of amnesty can rationalize that his or her admission of guilt was not really for a crime like rebellion but rather for a cause like revolution.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, has said that this amnesty would only “oblige” or “force” grantees to admit membership in the C-N-N. That membership itself is not a crime unless the C-N-N is proscribed as a terrorist organization under the last paragraph of Section 10 in relation to Section 26 of the new Anti-Terrorism Act or is designated by the UN Security Council as a terrorist organization. Palabay also pointed out that grantees may even be “forced” to commit a “number of anti-government actions” that may even include activities that do not even involve the use of arms. A perusal of the last paragraph of Section 1 indicates that the “crimes committed in pursuit of a political belief” and thus possibly subject to amnesty need not be “with… the use of arms,” it may even be “without the use of arms” as long as the act was “part of a plan, program of action or strategy decided by the rebel leadership to overthrow and replace the National Government, any of its political subdivisions, or duly constituted authority.”

A potential problem with the above-quoted phrase “the offense for which he or she is criminally liable” is in those instances where no criminal charges have yet been filed. What offense then should an amnesty applicant admit guilt of? Would “rebellion” be the default offense for this purpose? Or just go for a much less serious offense (say “alarms and scandals”) from the long list of “crimes in pursuit of political beliefs” covered by rebel amnesty.

Finally under Section 2, “The filing of an application herein shall not ipso facto result in a grant of amnesty. Applicants who are found qualified, upon due deliberation of the commission created for this purpose and approved by the President, shall be issued the corresponding Certificate of Amnesty.” This Amnesty Commission is the subject of Section 3 and is currently the subject of Executive Order (EO) No. 47 dated 22 November 2023 by President Marcos, amending EO 125, series of 2021, by then President Duterte, on the Creation of the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) to receive and process applications for amnesty.

Under Section 4 on Effects of the new rebel amnesty Proclamations, “Amnesty under this Proclamation shall extinguish any criminal liability for acts committed in pursuit of political beliefs, without prejudice to the grantee’s civil liability for injuries or damages caused to private persons whose right to be indemnified is fully recognized herein. The grant of amnesty shall also restore civil or political rights suspended or lost by virtue of criminal conviction.” Interestingly, “the grantee’s civil liability for injuries or damages caused” does not extend to public persons, such as soldiers and police officers.

Under Section 5 on Confidentiality Clause, “All sworn applications filed before the Amnesty Commission, as well as any testimony and/or any evidence given or presented in support of the application which are not otherwise available to the prosecution, shall not be used as evidence against the applicant in any other proceeding where the amnesty is not in issue, except for the offense of perjury committed in the course of the testimony relevant to the amnesty application.” It seems that “any testimony and/or any evidence given or presented in support of the application”—if “otherwise available to the prosecution”—can still be used as evidence against the applicant in any other proceeding where the amnesty is not in issue.” What other proceedings could this be? One kind could be for “the grantee’s civil liability for injuries or damages caused to private persons.”

Finally under Section 6 on Application Period, “Applications for the grant of amnesty shall be filed under oath with the Amnesty Commission within two (2) years from the effectivity of this Proclamation.” This would normally be counted from the corresponding Concurrent Resolutions of both Houses of Congress which were achieved when the Senate adopted the earlier House Concurrent Resolutions for Proclamations Nos. 403, 405 and 406 on March 4, 2024 and for Proclamation No. 404 on March 13, 2024. The two-year deadline is thus up to March 2026, still under the Marcos Jr. administration, barring unforeseen circumstances. By then, the NPA would normally be celebrating its 57th anniversary.

Tomorrow: CPP-NPA-NDF “Front Organizations”

(SOLIMAN M. SANTOS JR. is a retired RTC Judge of Naga City, Camarines Sur, serving in the judiciary there from 2010 to 2022. He has an A.B. in History cum laude from U.P. in 1975, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) in Naga City in 1982, and a Master of Laws from the University of Melbourne in 2000. He is a long-time human rights and international humanitarian lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer; and author of a number of books, including on the Moro and Communist fronts of war and peace. Among his authored books are The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process published by UP Press in 2001; Judicial Activist: The Work of a Judge in the RTC of Naga City published by Central Books in 2023; and his latest, Tigaon 1969: Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM and SDK published by Ateneo Press in 2023.)

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