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PEACETALK | Four Rebel Group Amnesties:  Win Some, Lose Some (1)

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1st of 5 parts

NAGA CITY (MindaNews / 16 April) – Four presidential amnesty Proclamations Nos. 403 (for the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade), 404 (for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front), 405 (for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and 406 (for the Moro National Liberation Front), all dated 22 November 2023, have recently been concurred in separately by both Houses of Congress, thereby putting them into effect and paving the way for the National Amnesty Commission to receive and process amnesty applications.  The Implementing Rules and Regulations for these are already underway (though not seen by the author at this writing).  There are a number of things to note about this latest set of amnesty Proclamations for those four rebel groups.

 Sino/ alin ang naiiba?  (Who/ what is different?)

First of all, the four Proclamations basically replicate four immediately preceding amnesty Proclamations Nos. 1090, 1091, 1092 and 1093 for the same four rebel groups – two Communist rebel groups and two Moro rebel groups — issued in 2021 by then President Rodrigo Duterte.  It would seem that there is this rebel amnesty policy continuity into the next Marcos Jr. administration.  One notable difference is that Proclamation No. 1093 referred to the “Communist Terrorist Group (CTG)” while its new counterpart Proclamation No. 404 refers to the CPP-NPA-NDF.  Is this a more respectful improvement? 

Secondly, three of the four rebel groups concerned – the RPMP-RPA-ABB, the MILF and the MNLF – have already entered into peace settlements with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), while one rebel grouping — the CPP-NPA-NDF — has not (yet). Proclamation No. 404 covering the latter grouping, however, states in its prefatory fourth WHEREAS clause that this is “without prejudice to any legal arrangement that may result from a negotiated settlement which the government is pursuing with the various rebel and insurgent groups.”  Presidential Peace Adviser Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. has indicated that a new proclamation covering the CPP-NPA-NDF would be forthcoming “just in case we already have a final peace agreement.”  He explained that amnesty was usually granted after the conclusion of the peace negotiations.  It is not clear though whether the amnesties for the aforesaid three rebel groups with peace settlements were also the result of negotiations. It does not look like it, given the basically uniform terms in the two sets of four Proclamations in 2021 and 2023.

Same terms and same date, 22 November 2023, for the new set of four Proclamations.  It is thus likely only coincidental that Proclamation No. 404 for the CPP-NPA-NDF was issued just one day before the 23 November 2023 breakthrough Oslo Joint Statement between the GRP and NDF where they “agreed to come up with a framework that sets the priorities for the peace negotiations… that will set the parameters for the final peace agreement.”  Sometimes, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. 

Thirdly, and related to the above second point of note, the Proclamations for the three rebel groups (RPMP, MILF and MNLF) with peace settlements all apply to their “members,” while the Proclamation for the “unsettled” rebel grouping CPP-NPA-NDF (hereinafter “C-N-N”) applies to “former members.”  Those who may file for amnesty must have “surrendered to the government and renounced [their] rebellious activities.”  And so, on one hand, there is the understandable C-N-N plaint against this as a classic “divide and rule” tactic with disrespect to its organizational integrity, unlike that afforded to the three other rebel groups.  On the other hand, there is the reality of some number of former members of the C-N-N who have actually surrendered and otherwise left the C-N-N, as well as members and former members who are detained or imprisoned due to criminal case convictions or still pending criminal cases without bail.  They have real concerns of legal status and security, or of release from detention or imprisonment, or of some life normalcy.

According to Galvez, Proclamation No. 404 only covers around 40,000 C-N-N ex-rebels who already surrendered, not what he estimated to be the remaining 1,576 rebels (those numbers are of course belied by the C-N-N), that would have to be covered in another separate new Proclamation of expanded coverage “just in case we already have a final peace agreement.”  This, however, remains much to be seen, nearly six months after the last hopeful Oslo Joint Statement just in 23 November 2023, though that seems like a distant past now when instead both the AFP and the NPA have since ramped up their offensive military operations against each other.  Both their body language and even rhetoric have since been much more for war rather than for peace.  One side thinks it is winning. The other side thinks it cannot lose.  One side vows to end the local communist armed conflict by the end of the year.  The other side vows to finally advance from its longstanding “middle phase” of the strategic defensive first stage of its three-stage Maoist protracted people’s war strategy, reaffirmed no less than twice already since the early 1990s split in the CPP.  

Fourthly, the Proclamations for the three rebel groups RPMP-RPA-ABB, MILF and MNLF apply to those groups only, while the Proclamation for the rebel grouping C-N-N applies to also to its “front organizations” though these are not named.  This certainly casts a wider net, so to speak. This is the second count (the first being the “former members” qualification) that shows the government’s different, more aggressive if you will, treatment of the C-N-N.  But more on this “front organizations” matter further below.

Fifthly, it is a tale of two contrasting responses to the Proclamations exemplified by the MILF and the C-N-N.  Soon after President Marcos Jr. announced his coming rebel amnesty Proclamations during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 24 July 2023, MILF Chairman and Bangsamoro Auronomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interim Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, credited Mr. Marcos for his continued commitment to “bring genuine autonomy and progress” to the region with a vow to pursue amnesty for former rebels… it “is a testament to his strong and resolute desire of finding lasting peace and justice.”  Earlier, several Bangsamoro Parliament members appealed to the President and Congress to grant blanket amnesty to MILF and MNLF members.  It is safe to say that the MNLF as well as the RPMP-RPA-ABB also welcome the Proclamation.

On the other hand, the C-N-N “firmly reject[ed] Marcos’s treacherous offer of amnesty and surrender.” CPP Chief Information Officer Marco L. Valbuena said, among others, that “The revolutionary cause for genuine national freedom and social justice is far greater than any Marcos offer of amnesty. Revolutionaries are motivated not by the selfish desire for some personal gain, rather by the selfless devotion to serve and struggle with the people…. Marcos is being grossly insolent with his offer of amnesty. He is seriously mistaken to think that Red fighters of the New People’s Army will line up to gain a few individual concessions in exchange for giving up the much bigger people’s cause which they have committed themselves to.” This rejection of amnesty has been reaffirmed by several NPA regional commands.  This could be a real test of mettle, one way or the other.

Before proceeding to a discussion of the terms of the Proclamations, it should be noted that the Proclamations do not cover at least one more Communist rebel group that broke away first from the CPP as part of the RPMP and then from the latter to form the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao-Revolutionary People’s Army (RPMM-RPA) even though this group has been in a peace process with the GRP that has been suspended for some time now though still with an existing ceasefire agreement.  This admittedly “small peace process” has apparently been long forgotten, at least by the GRP. There is also the C-N-N breakaway group Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), no longer the subject of amnesty likely because of the completion of post-settlement Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR).

Tomorrow: Crimes Covered and Not Covered

(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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