DAVAO, Philippines — President Corazon Aquino offered amnesty to 168 communist rebels in a face-to-face meeting in a convent today and said she was impressed with their "bravery and acute sense of justice."
On her first trip to the rebellion-torn southern Philippines since she took power from Ferdinand E. Marcos three months ago, Aquino indicated that she is considering departing from her previous position of negotiating only with the top leaders of the Philippines Communist Party.
She spoke in a nationally televised address after a day of consultations in the port city with representatives of the various Davao groups, including businessmen, youths and tribal minorities.
The meeting, in the nation's third-largest city, 520 miles south of Manila, was her first in fulfilling a campaign pledge that her government would be one of "consultation, not dictation."
'Arms for Rehabilitation'
"Taking the cue from these consultations," Aquino said her government will look into the feasibility of exchanging "arms for rehabilitation," 60-day regional cease-fires and the parceling of military reservations into farmland for rebel returnees.
She said the communist leadership has not responded to her offer of a six-month cease-fire with rebels of the 16,000-member New People's Army and a dialogue to end a bloody 17-year insurgency.
Aquino rejected a communist demand that armed forces units be confined to barracks during a cease-fire, saying it would "leave the insurgents a free zone within which to operate with impunity."
She also said rebel leaders should control their men in the field.
'A Signal of Failure'
"Any gross violation of the cease-fire will be taken by my government as a deliberate act and a signal of the failure of negotiations and the resumption of hostilities," she said.