By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
21 October 2010

MANILA, Philippines—Was defense analyst Rex Robles comparing apples with oranges?

Sen. Joker Arroyo, the subject of the retired commodore’s searing criticism on Tuesday, Wednesday defended the amnesty granted by the then President Corazon Aquino to communist rebels after the 1986 Edsa Revolution.

Arroyo said such a proclamation could not be compared with the amnesty recently granted by Corazon Aquino’s son, President Benigno S. Aquino III, to mutinous soldiers who had tried to overthrow the previous administration.

“Why should we be circumspect on amnesty for the military?” the senator told the Inquirer. “Because the military is the only apparatus in the government which has the monopoly of the legal use of force. That has been the recurring lesson of our history under five presidencies.”

Robles, a member of the Feliciano Commission that looked into the 2003 Oakwood mutiny, earlier criticized Arroyo for opposing Mr. Aquino’s amnesty proclamation, which would cover detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

“I’m not surprised. He’s being his usual insincere, hypocritical self,” Robles had said, noting that it was Arroyo who had recommended the granting of amnesty to the likes of communist leader Jose Maria Sison when he was Corazon Aquino’s executive secretary.

Robles was a member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM, which was at the forefront of the coup attempts during the first Aquino administration.

Struggle against Marcos

Arroyo pointed out that the old amnesty covered people who “engaged the martial law army in an armed struggle” and helped bring down the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

“Of course I supported one of the first policy directives of Cory Aquino when she assumed the presidency, namely, the amnesty or pardon of those who fought President Marcos’ martial law regime and the immediate release of those detained in military stockades,” he said.

“That policy initiative was a 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,” he added.

Arroyo said the amnesty covered members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, “who fought in the countryside, national democrats, social democrats and their allies such as the Light-A-Fire, the April 6 Liberation, who engaged in destabilization campaigns in the urban areas, and others who were engaged in the underground movement against martial rule.”

Not unlike drive vs Nazism

The senator said the collaboration among groups belonging to the different sides of the political spectrum then was not unlike the principle behind the Allied forces’ decision to side with communist Russia in World War II.

He noted that Britain’s Winston Churchill and the United States’ Franklin Roosevelt “had to team up with the dreaded (Josef) Stalin to accelerate the defeat of (Adolf) Hitler’s Nazi Germany, knowing full well that after the war, Stalin and communism would become the enemy.”

“That too were the thoughts that ran through the minds of the legal or non-violent opposition to Mr. Marcos,” he recalled.

Arroyo was the lone senator who opposed Mr. Aquino’s decision to grant amnesty to Trillanes and other soldiers who had attempted to unseat former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The others in the Senate committees on rules, and on peace, unification and reconciliation approved the proclamation.

Role of Congress

“We must not forget that the President does not have sole power to grant amnesty,” the senator said. “The Constitution mandates that it be shared by Congress. If either House should withhold its concurrence, the amnesty loses its efficacy.”

Arroyo said the administration should await the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court on the coup case against Trillanes and company set next week.

“To be sure, Congress is not bound by the forthcoming decision of Judge Oscar Pimentel,” he said. “But since it is only his court that had an in-depth hearing of the Trillanes case while neither the Senate nor the House has any committee report on the subject to base their concurrence or nonconcurrence, it could serve as a useful guide.”

Former Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. supported Arroyo.

“Though I disagree with Joker, I’m not sure that he’s being hypocritical in his amnesty opposition. His basic posture, I guess, is for the judicial process to have the first say,” he said in a text message.

House to back P-Noy

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. Wednesday expressed full backing for the presidential proclamation and said that the House of Representatives should act on it “with dispatch.”

“I don’t like to say easy or not easy,” he said, “but obviously we will concur.”

Belmonte agreed that the proclamation was important “because the President wanted to have a clean slate there.”

“Personally, that is something that we should work on. I am in favor of it not only because the President signed, but it is right,” he told reporters.

The House justice committee is expected to tackle the issue after Congress resumes sessions on Nov. 8, according to Belmonte. “That will be the first item in their agenda,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Judge Elmo Alameda of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 deferred the scheduled hearing of one of the rebellion cases against Trillanes and his men as requested by the defense in view of the amnesty move. The case involves the 2007 siege of the Manila Peninsula hotel in Makati City.
(With reports from TJ Burgonio and Tina G. Santos)

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