October 21, 2010

On amnesty and other intriguing questions

The debate on whether President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s amnesty proclamation for soldiers who had rebelled against the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is justified begs for more clarity. A confirmed putschist, retired colonel Rex Robles, twitted Senator Joker Arroyo, a political ally of Mrs. Arroyo and President Corazon Aquino’s executive secretary, for the latter’s general amnesty of communist rebels when she assumed power from the dictator Marcos in 1986.

Mr. Robles reduced the issue to one of red-baiting. He implied that Mrs. Aquino’s policy on the communist-led rebellion was soft due to the influence of human rights lawyers like Sen. Arroyo. In contrast, Mr. Robles sees amnesty for military rebels more than justified because they were impelled by noble motives, i.e. the desire to rid the military and police establishments of corruption and to expose the Arroyo administration’s complicity if not instigation of wrongdoing.

Mr. Robles does a disservice to the cause of his boss, Senator Antonio Trillanes (the preeminent military officer accused in the alleged Oakwood Mutiny of 2003) by resorting to this low blow.

Sen. Arroyo is perfectly correct in reminding all and sundry: “That policy initiative was in recognition of the immense contribution of these armed groups to the downfall of President Marcos. They suffered casualties, death, wounded, hamletted, tortured, imprisoned without charges in the fight against martial rule.”

As for Trillanes and company, they were protesting corruption and other criminal activities by the top brass of the Philippine armed forces under their commander-in-chief, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo.

Mr. Trillanes’ victory in the 2007 elections is significant considering he campaigned while in detention charged with leading a coup d’état. Yet he convinced enough Filipino voters disgusted with the Macapagal-Arroyo regime that as senator he would act as a fiscalizer in government.

With the change of administration to one that ran on a platform clobbering corruption and other malfeasance in the previous regime, it stands to reason that Mr. Aquino would eventually grant amnesty to the rebel soldiers. The decision is a popular one except for loud protestations from the former president’s camp and legitimate questions about the timing of the presidential proclamation.

Criticisms that the amnesty will embolden future coups seem to be overtaken by sympathy for the rebel soldiers’ avowed cause. It has been pointed out and rightly so that military rebellion is here to stay so long as government misrule, and other social evils that urge soldiers to rebel, persist.

Sen. Arroyo, tongue in cheek, now uses the argument to oppose the amnesty saying that all other rebels can now rightfully demand amnesty for themselves as well.

He cites the infamous case of the 43 health professionals and community health workers arrested and detained on military claims that they were New People’s Army rebels undergoing training in bomb-making, collectively dubbed Morong 43.

But the national and international clamor for the release of the Morong 43 is not about pardoning political crimes. It is about rendering justice to innocent people wronged by their own government.

The incorrect comparison has been triggered by calls for their release in the wake of amnesty for the rebel soldiers. The question raised is if the Aquino administration can pardon military rebels – even ahead of the verdict promulgation by the court that had been trying the case for seven years -- why can't he act with greater dispatch on the case of the illegally arrested, tortured and unjustly detained forty-three health workers.

The grounds for correcting the injustice inflicted on the Morong 43 are even more pressing, the executive act required less complicated (the prosecutors simply withdraw the charge since the accused have not been arraigned) and there is little substance to any charge that Malacañang would be
Interfering in the independence of the courts.

Meanwhile, the real revolutionaries in this country, be they from the NPA or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), are not exactly clamoring for amnesty nor showing any indication that they would be open to this in lieu of a negotiated peace settlement or outright military victory.

Nonetheless, the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) has consistently joined peace and human rights advocates in demanding the release of political prisoners, i.e. those unjustly detained for dissenting against the previous regimes.

This is not the same as calling for amnesty for CPP/NPA/NDF or the MILF rebels.

While not the crux of the matter, it might also be worth pointing out that all but buried beneath the debate is the fact that the offense for which the soldiers were imprisoned and are on the verge of being amnestied stemmed from their strong aversion to and protest against grand corruption in the military (not to mention implicating their superiors, all the way up to defense sec Angelo Reyes, in the bombings of civilian establishments in order to create “terrorist” scenarios).

The question begs to be asked, why is President Aquino now saying that Mr. Trillanes and the Magdalo soldiers may have been victims of injustice, while his administration does not go after the big-time corrupt generals in the military and police establishments against whom these soldiers rebelled?

There is still the question of timing. Some quarters have observed that the amnesty comes at a time when a group, trying to pass itself off as the anti-government opposition with the distinction of having military men in their roster, was poised to come out with a statement against the Aquino regime. Is the amnesty of soldiers more a political maneuver than a decisive move to render justice?

With what has been happening so far, Mr. Aquino is not just failing in giving firm direction to his fledgling government, he is also creating confusion if not dismay among those who want to know where his “daang matuwid” is leading and how he plans to get there.

But if indeed Mr. Aquino knows where he is bringing this country, why is he caught not telling us the entire truth or giving us the entire picture thus triggering self-inflicted controversies for his administration. #

Published in Business World
22 – 23 October 2010

email: carol_araullo@yahoo.com


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