‘Congress has power to grant amnesty to NDF rebels’

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A member of the peace panel of the incoming administration of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said Congress has the power to grant amnesty to consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) who are detained for various criminal offenses.

Former Alaminos, Pangasinan mayor Hernani Braganza said militant lawmakers could take the initiative in filing a measure granting amnesty for NDF consultants and allow them to participate in the peace negotiations with the government.

The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA), representing the groups in the peace talks with the government.

Most of the supposed NDF consultants, however, are detained and charged with common crimes.

“There are progressive blocs in Congress. They take the initiative of filing the law. Let us see how long will that take in Congress,” Braganza said.

Braganza clarified the amnesty should not be for the NDF consultants in general.

“I did not say that (referring to NDF allies),” Braganza said.

“What I said was anybody can file a proposed bill in Congress in relation to amnesty. Any member of Congress for that matter. The amnesty we are talking about is to benefit those presently detained, about 500-plus of them,” he said.

The others, like their consultants numbering about 18 to 20, can be released ahead because they are covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) even in the absence of amnesty, for the formal talks to resume, Braganza added.

“Some of them, based on the agreement that was signed, can also be released based on humanitarian grounds,” he said. These include the sick and the elderly.

Braganza said Duterte and incoming labor secretary Silvestre Bello II, chairman of the peace negotiating panel, have stated they can be released.

Braganza said the grant of amnesty is subject to the concurrence of Congress.

“There is no amnesty by proclamation of the president. Congress should file it. It could not be the Office of the President that should file it,” he said.

He said those who would benefit must apply for the grant of amnesty.

Braganza said both the NDF and the government panels would assess who should be included in the amnesty list.

Bello, on the other hand, said the Department of Justice could initiate a temporary release of the detained consultants with safe conduct passes during the peace negotiations.

The NDF demanded that rebels who are serving as peace consultants should be freed under the JASIG signed in 1995.

Negotiations between the government and the NDF hit a snag after the two sides failed to reach a consensus on jailed rebel leaders.

The NDF had demanded the release of rebels charged with criminal cases, saying they are working as peace consultants and should, therefore, be immune from arrest. – With Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

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