GMA TO ASK CONGRESS TO ENACT GENERAL AMNESTY FOR NATIONAL UNITY

MALACANANG, December 18, 2003 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo announced yesterday she will ask Congress to enact a "general amnesty" bill that effectively pardons all rebels and political prisoners who fought the government, as well as individuals and groups who figured in "political clashes" with her administration.

Mrs. Arroyo told radio dzRH that she has asked Palace lawyers to draft the bill or a proclamation that she would endorse to Congress for approval.

The President, however, said she will leave to Congress the discretion to include the Marcos family and their cronies, personalities identified with deposed President Joseph Estrada in the May 1, 2001 riots, and the junior military officers implicated in the July 27 mutiny.

The President released a draft copy of the amnesty grant, tentatively titled "National Healing and Reconciliation Act of 2003."

"There will be a National Healing and Reconciliation Commission and this will be the one to identify the persons, authorities and institutions and organizations that may have been involved in the conflict and promote, facilitate the granting of amnesty," Mrs. Arroyo later told Palace reporters.

Mrs. Arroyo said she did not specify persons or groups who will be the subject of amnesty. "Because Iím going into strategic directions but the operational decisions would be done by this commission," she added.

The bill seeks to create a five-man commission which would be empowered as the body to implement the grant of amnesty to those involved in the past political conflicts.

"The coverage of this law shall not be limited to organized rebel groups but shall also include individual participants of political strife," the draft bill stated.

The proposed commission will have a committee on amnesty, reparation and reconciliation in coordination and "integrated" with the National Amnesty Commission (NAC).

The commission will also have a committee on wealth recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction in which the powers and functions of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) will also be integrated.

Mrs. Arroyo clarified that the amnesty grant may come in a form of a proclamation or in a bill that Congress may approve by law.

"Because this is my original idea," she said. "It will really depend on when Congress will act on it but this is certainly part of my two and a half years that I have studied this and consulted. This is certainly one of the fundamental reforms that we need so that we can have reconciliation and unity in this country."

Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr., however, refused to say whether pro-Estrada forces will be covered by the amnesty grant.

"Maybe, it depends upon the will of Congress, depending upon the moment of public opinion and how fast reconciliation can be achieved with justice," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo instructed Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) Secretary Gabriel Claudio to look for lawmakers who will sponsor the amnesty bill.

Claudio said he will bring up the issue first before members of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS) headed by Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo and seek the advice of Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Teresita Deles.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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