Palace studies amnesty for Moro rebels

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — MORE than six months after the government announced an amnesty for communist rebels, it is now studying a similar pardon for members of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front, according to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

“We are open to the idea, especially if it is part of a process that would bring peace to Mindanao,” Ermita said hours after members of another separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, attacked two military outposts in Basilan province, resulting in the death of two rebels and injury to at least 10 government troops.

Ermita did not comment on the continuing gun battles in Basilan, but said the Palace would consider all measures that will solve issues raised by Muslim rebels as the government did in the case of the communist rebels, for whom President Arroyo signed an amnesty proclamation in September last year.

But Proclamation 1377 covered only communist rebels, Ermita said. A separate proclamation must be issued for the MNLF, in particular to Nur Misuari who led an armed rebellion in Zamboanga City that resulted in the death of 100 people in 2001.

“The Cabinet will have to discuss that first… If we are going to give them amnesty, then we will have to issue a proclamation for the MNLF because, right now, they are not covered,” he said, adding the amnesty that former President Fidel Ramos issued after the government signed a peace agreement with the MNLF in 1996 had already expired.

Ermita said MNLF leaders raised the matter of an amnesty for separatist guerrillas when they met with government representatives in a meeting hosted by the Libyan government in Tripoli.

Presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza, who represented the government in the Tripoli meeting, said amnesty was one of the provisions of the reunification agreement between the factions of Misuari and Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.

The 13-point Tripoli Declaration called on the government to grant amnesty to the MNLF leaders charged with rebellion, a position that has long been supported by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which mediated the 1996 peace deal that the government signed with the MNLF.

But Dureza explained that even if a separate proclamation was signed for the MNLF, amnesty would only extinguish criminal liability and not the civil damages that the applicant may be held liable for.

The amnesty request aside, the MNLF also declared its leadership vacant and formed a transition leadership and unification committee that would be the “sole legitimate body of the MNLF,” and the only one authorized to enter into any negotiation or agreement.

The leadership crisis began when the MNLF’s Executive Council of the 15 “ousted” Misuari and, together with almost 300 leaders of the Moro group, elected Cotabato City Mayor Sema as the new chairman in Pagadian City last month.

The MNLF is also the “father” of the MILF, which Hashim Salamat founded in 1977 after Misuari signed the Tripoli Agreement with the government on Dec. 23,1976, in Libya.

In 2001, the MILF signed its own ceasefire agreement with the government, this time under the aegis of Malaysia. But Malaysia withdrew its peacekeepers from Mindanao last May 10 in an apparent bid to pressure the government to accept MILF terms.

Meanwhile, MILF rebels under a certain Commander Hudli Maya, aided by some members of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group, attacked a military detachment in Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan around 5:45 a.m. yesterday.

Att least 10 soldiers were wounded, but government troops found the bodies of two dead MILF rebels.

Marine commandantBen Dolorfino said the attack was a violation of the ceasefire agreement, but MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said it was the government that attacked their forces.