GOVT READY TO PARDON MILF REBELS, GMA TELLS GULF PAPER

MALACANANG, December 17, 2003  (STAR) President Arroyo has prepared a draft bill for a general amnesty to help heal divisions in her country’s society as she insisted on winning the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a newspaper in the Gulf region said.

Mrs. Arroyo also told the Dubai-based Gulf News, "If I win the presidential election (in May 2004), I will change the constitution to make it a parliamentary democracy.

"My two and a half years as president have shown that we need to change two areas in the Philippines to ensure that it does not lag behind – the political and the economic."

At Malacañang, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Secretary Gabriel Claudio clarified yesterday that the proposed grant of amnesty applies only to communist rebels and Muslim secessionist groups.

The draft bill, which has been pending in Congress since early last year, does not cover military adventurists, such as those who launched the aborted coup in Makati last July, Claudio said.

As such, MILF and New People’s Army rebel returnees who have pending applications at the National Amnesty Commission (NAC) would benefit if such measure were enacted.

"So I’m sure, it has nothing to with Oakwood," Claudio said, referring to the July 27 failed coup by junior military officers who took over the plush Oakwood apartments in Makati to supposedly air their grievances.

Mrs. Arroyo’s plan for a parliamentary democracy was accompanied by two key statements, the Dubai daily said: a "healing policy" to reunite the Philippines’ "divided policy" with a general amnesty, coupled with a refusal to allow the peace process with the MILF to fail.

"I have prepared a draft bill for a general amnesty," said Mrs. Arroyo, who was speaking during a two-day visit to Bahrain.

"I want to heal the divide in society, not just between the MILF and other such groups in Mindanao but between the forces that brought me to power and the ones against EDSA, the ‘people power’ movement," she told the daily.

The bill will be submitted in the next few weeks, the daily quoted Arroyo aides as saying.

Mrs. Arroyo said that Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa had offered to play a major role in monitoring the peace process with the MILF as well as redeveloping "the bread basket of the Philippines in the aftermath of peace.""

"There will be no compromise on the sovereignty and integrity of the Philippines, no secessionist movement that violates the sanctity of the Philippines," she said, in reference to making peace with her country’s largest Muslim separatist group.

Both sides are preparing to resume formal peace negotiations brokered by Malaysia, which has also agreed to send a team to monitor truce violations between Manila and the MILF.

The MILF is the country’s main Muslim insurgent force and the talks are aimed at ending a 25-year rebellion that has ravaged the southern island of Mindanao. — AFP, Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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