Nom de guerre in peace pacts not unique to PH – Deles
MANILA, Philippines – If it is only a small thing compared to the peace process as a whole, why can't Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal just reveal his real name?
Senator Francis Escudero asked this question as the Senate hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law resumed on Monday, April 13.
Iqbal, however, refused to reveal his true identity, citing security concerns as he remains to identify as rebel leader amid the ongoing peace process in Mindanao. (READ: Iqbal: Even heroes used aliases)
On the first hearing of the Senate committee on local government since the Mamasapano tragedy, Marcos introduced the MILF chief negotiator as "the man who has come to be known as Mohagher Iqbal." (READ: Marcos: Iqbal alias mocks gov't, peace process)
Facing Iqbal, Marcos reiterated earlier statements that Iqbal's use of a surname "does not inspire confidence" in connection with the peace talks.
Marcos asked the rebel leader point-blank: "Mr Iqbal, what is your real name?"
Instead of providing a direct answer, Iqbal sought to define the context behind his decision to use an alias.
"Starting a revolutionary struggle is a dangerous enterprise that would involve not the security of the person involved but also the cause he or she is espousing for," he said.
"Perhaps I would not be around today if I did not use a nom de guerre. That's precisely why I use a nom de guerre – to protect myself, the body I am representing, and the cause," he added.
The rebel negotiator later told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing that "Mohagher" means immigrant while Iqbal means "something lofty."
All throughout the hearing, Iqbal said the MILF as a revolutionary organization considers its current engagement with the government as a political one. It is for this reason that he is engaging with the Senate in his capacity as the chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, rather than as MILF chief negotiator.
Amid a standing ceasefire agreement, Iqbal said the MILF and government are still in a "state of conflict" as the final peace pact has yet to be fully implemented and the MILF remains to be in transition.
"When the peace accord is implemented, the government of the Philippines will learn everything about us," he said.
Marcos was unconvinced that "security concerns" were still a factor in Iqbal's use of an alias, since the chief negotiator is already out in public and a familiar face in the media.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the security issue is not only limited to Iqbal as an individual.
"In the matter of his engagement with the government, he is a public person. He has a family. He has young children. We know the MILF still has enemies who would love to see some problems," Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said.
"There are others who do not want this peace process to succeed," Deles added.
Asked if she knows the real name of the rebel leader, Deles said she does, but admitted she is not in possession of the documents showing the rebel negotiator's real name.
The OPAPP earlier said Iqbal's real name is reflected in his passport and voters' ID.
Marcos said he "examined" the issue before the hearing and found out that there is no country in the world where a peace agreement was signed under an alias.
Deles corrected the statement. She said final peace accords in Guatemala and Nepal were also signed under pseudonyms.
"This is not unique in this country. This has been a practice in many peace negotiations around the world," Deles said.
Marcos, meanwhile, countered by saying that "surely" those examples that Deles gave are not on the same stage as the current peace process with the MILF, where the peace accord is now up for legislation in Congress.
During the hearing, Armed Forces chief Gregorio Catapang Jr revealed that the military does not know Iqbal real's name.
"We treated [Iqbal] as his real name. We never knew it was a nom de guerre."
Senators Nancy Binay and Escudero questioned the legality of Iqbal's use of an alias.
Binay said Iqbal is receiving government funds under an alias in his capacity as the chairman of the BTC – the body tasked to craft the first draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Under Executive Order 120, the BTC was provided with a P100 million budget.
Iqbal revealed that he owns a bank account under his alias, which Escudero pointed out was against the anti-money laundering law.
The rebel leader was also asked if he paid his taxes.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, meanwhile, argued that the peace process should be considered beyond mere legalities.
"If a revolutionary force is outside the jurisdiction of the state, it also follows then that the laws of that state can't or will be impossible to apply," Guingona said.
"They are outside the ambit of the law. That's why they are called rebels.... Therefore, it is not proper to look at this problem – I won't even call it a problem – this issue of Mr Iqbal's use of an alias as a legal problem because we can't look at it using legal framework. It is beyond legal, it is political," he added.
The culture in conflict areas, where clan wars and the presence of other armed groups are a reality, must also be taken into account, Guingona said.
"Hindi ka babalikan sa pamamagitan ng pag-file ng kaso. Hindi gano'n 'yun. Babalikan ka. Kung hindi ka mahanap, pamilya mo ang babalikan. Kung hindi mahanap ang pamilya mo, clan mo ang babalikan," he said.
(They will not carry revenge by filing cases. If they don't find you, they will look for your families. If they don't find your family, they will cast revenge on your clan.)
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer said they provided the Senate with documents on the MILF, including a letter from MILF chair Murad Ebrahim enumerating the names of the MILF negotiators.
For the government panel, what matters is that the person who signed the documents under the peace process is acknowledged as the representative of the MILF.
"There was never a question on who the Mr Iqbal sitting on the table was and who the Iqbal who signed the document was unless there is another entity who claims to have signed it," Ferrer said.
"An identity does not only have to do with the name. It also has to do with the biometrics and the face. He can be called different names but the fact is he is the same person who signed these documents," she said.
The issue on Iqbal's alias stemmed from a Facebook post of former Interior and Local Government Secretary Rafael Alunan III, citing an anonymous source claiming that Iqbal and Murad were holding Malaysian passports.
Malaysia has since denied that the rebel leaders were Malaysian citizens.
The Senate is inviting the Department of Foreign Affairs in the next Senate hearing. – Rappler.com