TURNING POINT: Of Aliases and the Peace Talk

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 16 April) – There was an intriguing twist in the House hearing on the Mamasapano incident last week. Attention shifted, at one point, from the circumstances of the bloody encounter to the future of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL). This was on account of the identity of the MILF chief peace negotiator publicly known as Mohagher Iqbal.

Not only was his citizenship questioned by some solons but also his real name. The MILF peace negotiator maintained that he is a Filipino citizen and a Bangsamoro by identity. He admitted that Mohagher Iqbal is not his real or name at birth but his nom the guerre. He has, accordingly, many pseudonyms as a revolutionary and, apparently, would continue to use them until he ceases to be one.

Mr. Iqbal, in an apparent move of justifying the use of pseudonyms, cited the practice of our revolutionary heroes – Jose P. Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar, among others, who used many other names for security and other reasons during their struggle for the country’s freedom and independence from Spain.

Because he is dealing with the government in the peace process as a revolutionary, he sees nothing wrong in using a nom de guerre in his transactions with the latter. After all, since 1997 he is publicly known and has consistently used the name Mohagher Iqbal and signed for it in his business with the government.

And the government, he claimed, is aware of his real name. It is, accordingly, the one reflected in his passport. This official document allows him to travel outside the country many times without question.

“Because of security reason, my name on the passport is known only to the government. I travel a lot – maybe hundred times. But I’m not hiding my name on my passport,” said Iqbal.

Mr. Iqbal refused, however, to show his passport to the lawmakers because of “certain sensitivities”. He offered, nonetheless, to request the Department of Foreign Affairs to share with the House some information regarding the name indicated in his one and only passport to settle the issue.

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There is no doubt that the MILF chief peace negotiator signed in his nom de guerre the Framework Agreement and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the two major documents on the peace process.

Would the use of an alias in said documents invalidate them? How then would this impact on the proposed BBL legislation which is primarily based on said two documents?

Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, the first solon to broach to the public the issue on Mr. Mohagher Iqbal’s identity, believed that the MILF chief peace negotiator violated the Revised Penal Code (Article 178) and the Anti-alias law (Commonwealth Act No.141 as amended by RA No. 6085) in signing the peace documents with an alias and not with his real name. Both laws prohibit the use of pseudonyms in public documents and impose a penalty of fines and imprisonment.

If the use of an alias in public document is illegal, then it follows that the affected document is invalid or null and void from the beginning. This is the logic adopted by those who are critical of Iqbal and opposed to the peace process and the BBL.

During the House hearing, Justice Secretary de Lima opined that the law allows for some exemptions in the use of aliases as long as this was not used in concealing a crime. She was not certain though whether signing with an alias like what Iqbal did would invalidate the peace agreement. The Secretary suggested, however, that as long as the signatory stands by what he has entered into, the use of nom de guerre isn’t really a big deal.

Senator Marcos, the Senate Committee Chair for Local Government, thought otherwise. The use of an alias, he said, may impact on the passage of the BBL. Which means it may delay or derail the proposed legislation. If only to save the BBL, it seems imperative for Mr. Iqbal to explain convincingly his use of alias in negotiating with government. And he should disclose, once and for all, to the public his real or legal name to clear things.

Senator Sotto commented that the government should not have, from the start, talked to unknown personality in forging the peace agreement. Senator Alan Cayetano, like Sotto, criticized the government peace negotiators for not being discerning on the personalities of their MILF counterparts in the peace process. This negligence heaps, accordingly, serious doubts on the integrity of the peace process and the resultant agreement.

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The government, in pursuit for lasting peace in Mindanao, opted to negotiate with the most visible, dominant and influential Moro revolutionary organization in the area: the MILF.

The correct or real identities of the MILF peace negotiators were not an issue. The government is certainly aware that revolutionists adopt many aliases or noms de guerre for their personal security and organizational reasons. To start and sustain the peace talk, it was sufficient that it was dealing with the publicly known and unquestioned leaders of the partner organization.

The government is aware that after the passing of MILF founder Hashim Salamat, the 12,500-strong MILF guerilla has turned to Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the incumbent Chair, and Mohagher Iqbal for leadership and guidance. Thus it transacted the business of peacemaking with them, not minding whether Ebrahim or Iqbal are noms de guerre or real names. What is of importance is that they are, in those names and persons, the two currently recognized highest ranking leaders of the MILF. This is the fact and the unassailable truth.

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I don’t think the alias of the MILF chief peace negotiator would nullify the peace agreement he signed, particularly the Framework Agreement and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Precedents of national interest abound where an alias used in a public document does not nullify the document.

As already mentioned by many, Joseph Estrada, a movie actor turned politician who became president of the country (1998-2001), signed bills into law and the official currency of the Republic using an alias. He signed them “Joseph Ejercito Estrada” when in fact his legal name as reflected in the civil registry is Jose Marcelo Ejercito. To date, not a single public document that Estrada signed has been invalidated.

In addition, Estrada’s son, Jose Pimentel Ejercito, who is also an actor turned politician, has been using his screen name “Jinggoy Estrada” in all public documents in his capacity as a Senator of the Republic. The same is also obtaining with former actor Senator Ramon Revilla Sr. who is actually Jose Acuña Bautista in real life. And his son, another actor turned politician, Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., is actually Jose Marie Mortel Bautista by birth. It is reported though that Bautista Jr. legally changed his name to Bong Revilla while already a Senator in 2009.

Needless to say, to nullify all the documents all these actor-politicians signed as officials of the government may create some little chaos to this licentious republic.

If the use of alias in official documents is tolerated despite the existing laws against it, the reason could be that the above officials are popularly known in their aliases, are comfortable with their self-reinvention, and had no manifest iota of intent to defraud the government.

The case of the MILF peace negotiator is hardly different from above. The name Mohagher Iqbal, an admitted revolutionary alias, is popularly known to and recognized by the MILF and the government. The government, by negotiating with the MILF, admits and wishes to end a revolution at hand. It has to deal with it in whatever form, knowledge and understanding available to strike a peace deal.

From the very start of the current peace talk, the government negotiated with the MILF primarily through Mohagher Iqbal. Evidently, the rebel peace negotiator has not used his nom de guerre to defraud the government contrary to law, or disadvantage it in the demanding and excruciating negotiation for peace. Instead, he is using it to ascertain consistency and continuity of the MILF’s transaction with the government. To change name after being known in that nom de guerre for years may only lead to confusion, doubt and uncertainty both in the MILF and the government camp.

Iqbal may continue to use his nom de guerre as long as he wants to. Sooner or later, however, preferably sooner, he has to reveal his legal name even if he doesn’t want to use it anymore. This is the only way to quell and pacify all nagging doubts and suspicions about his person. Doing this may allow the nation to move on.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph. D., is a former professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan.)

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