What’s in a name?
The use by the chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of an alias or nom de guerre has disrupted the peace process—unnecessarily, in my humble view. Despite being pressed to reveal his “real” name, Mohagher Iqbal has remained tightlipped, claiming that the use of pseudonyms is normal for revolutionaries.
Laws on use of alias. “Kahit na si Marcelo del Pilar siyam po ang pangalan, at maging ang tatay ni Presidente na si Ninoy Aquino, in his passport his name was Marcial Bonifacio. So, normal po yan,” Iqbal said in an interview over GMA News TV’s “Balitanghali.”
To be sure, under Republic Act No. 6085 (which regulates the use of aliases), “no person shall use any name different from the one (1) with which he was registered at birth in the office of the local civil registry, or (2) with which he was baptized for the first time, or, (3) in case of an alien, with which he was registered in the bureau of immigration upon entry; or (4) such substitute name as may have been authorized by a competent court…”
As exceptions to these four items, the same law allows aliases “solely for literary, cinema, television, radio or other entertainment purposes and in athletic events where the use of pseudonym is normally accepted.” Thus, TV-radio and movie stars (like Heart Evangelista) may use pseudonyms. And athletes, too (like Pacman or Pancho Villa).
In addition, a married woman, according to the Civil Code, may use “(1) her maiden first name and surname and add her husband’s surname, or (2) her maiden first name and her husband’s surname, or (3) her husband’s full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as ‘Mrs.’” Example: My wife may use (1) Elenita Carpio Panganiban, or (2) Elenita Panganiban, or (3) Mrs. Artemio V. Panganiban.
The Civil Code also permits the “employment of pen names or stage names, provided it is done in good faith and there is no injury to third persons.” Perfectly legal, therefore, were the use of “Doveglion” by Jose Garcia Villa and of “Quijano de Manila” by Nick Joaquin.
Filipinos’ use of nicknames, though not expressly allowed by RA 6085 and the Civil Code, have acquired legal acquiescence. Thus, we fondly refer to our presidents as P-Noy, GMA, Erap, FVR, Cory or FM without much ado and nitpicking.
Risks in illegal aliases. Certain special laws or regulations expressly bar the use of aliases. Thus, in opening bank accounts, “Jose Pidal” or “Jose Velarde” are not allowed by Bangko Sentral Circular 251. So, too, are fictitious names not authorized on passports, driver’s licenses and other government-issued ID cards because precisely they are used to identify their holders.
RA 6085 penalizes the illegal use of aliases or pseudonyms with imprisonment of from one year to five years and a fine of P5,000 to P10,000.
Despite these laws and penalties, revolutionaries still use aliases or noms de guerre to confuse their enemies, avoid being caught, and spare their families from inconvenience and possible ridicule.
Spies and deep-penetration agents, like the legendary James Bond, employ many names and passports to veil their identities and enable them to perform their delicate missions without being detected by their adversaries. Stealth and subterfuge are the very essence of their work. This does not necessarily mean the practice is legal. In fact, it is illegal.
Of course, if they are caught using fictitious names, they can be prosecuted and penalized. Nonetheless, this is probably the least of their worries. Rebels are in constant danger of being exposed, prosecuted and punished for worse crimes like rebellion, sedition or murder.
Meanwhile, while the peace process continues, Iqbal and his associates are in no danger of being arrested or prosecuted because they have been issued “safe conduct” passes by the government. Should the peace process collapse, their passes would expire and they would be in jeopardy of being chased and prosecuted like other criminal offenders. On the other hand, should the peace process succeed, they could be hailed as heroes.
Validity of acts. Despite the illegal use of a nom de guerre in negotiating with the government, Iqbal’s acts cannot be deemed invalid or illegal, provided they were done with the authority of the MILF, his principal. In point of fact, the MILF leadership has expressly affirmed his authority and the binding effect of his acts. So, what’s the big deal?
Moreover, the government’s peace panel headed by Miriam Coronel Ferrer, including Secretary Teresita Deles, admitted knowledge of Iqbal’s nom de guerre; in fact, they also know his real name. So, his use of a fictitious name is not an issue in assessing the binding effect of his actions.
Besides, once the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is approved, it would bind the Republic of the Philippines regardless of whether the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro he signed is valid or not. Indeed, the BBL—assuming it passes judicial scrutiny—would become part of the law of the land.
What’s in a name? To many of us, it is our most cherished treasure because it bears our honor and worth as distinct human beings. This is especially true for members of the judiciary. In their decisions, Supreme Court justices always sign above their complete names, including their middle initials, as in Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno or Hilario G. Davide Jr. One way of incurring their ire is to misspell their names or to muddle their middle initials.
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