Iqbal alias ‘mocks peace process’
It’s hard to explain how and why the government had to put up with engaging in peace negotiations for 18 years only for the chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohagher Iqbal, to use an alias in signing the historic and legally binding Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
When Iqbal appeared recently at a Senate hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, he was confronted with questions from startled legislators, questions such as “Who are you? Are we negotiating with a ghost or a true person?” Iqbal appeared on the summons of the Senate committee on local governments to testify on the BBL, which is to provide the legal basis for the agreement that he had signed together with the government’s chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel Ferrer.
The name “Mohagher Iqbal” appears on the document signed on March 27, 2014, and which consolidated and affirmed the understanding and commitment between the Philippine government and the MILF.
Questions about Iqbal’s true identity began to be raised earlier at the House of Representatives’ hearing on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre. In response to questions from legislators who wanted him to confirm reports that he is using a pseudonym to travel, and that he is actually a Malaysian citizen, he refused to disclose his real name, claiming that his real identity is known to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He released pictures of the passport page showing his biodata to dispute claims that he is a Malaysian citizen, but the name on the passport was blurred to protect his real identity, raising questions that the passport may have been tampered with. “I was born in Mindanao, I will live and die in Mindanao,” he told the hearing.
The plot and the mystery began to thicken from there. Why the use of aliases in public documents? What was Iqbal covering up? Government chief negotiator Ferrer muddled things further by saying: “Mohagher Iqbal is a nom de guerre. It has been used in negotiations since 1997. He has his own name by which he was born.” She refused to disclose the secret name. Iqbal told the hearing: “I have so many names. That is natural.”
Whatever the real name of Iqbal, the frivolity with which he performed his act as chief negotiator of the MILF—as though the negotiations were a cloak-and-dagger game with his counterparts in the government panel—raised plenty of doubts over whether the MILF can be trusted as a serious partner in the quest for peace in Mindanao. He has been at the center of the so-called peace process for 18 years, and the fact that he has used several aliases to sign important documents embodied in the comprehensive agreement during that period should have given sufficient warning to the government negotiators that the MILF has been short on transparency in the peace negotiations. In fact, Iqbal had chaired the MILF peace panel since July 2003.
Since the start of the peace process, the government has spelled out its position on the Bangsamoro enterprise. But on its part, the MILF has matched this transparency with a bunch of fictitious names used by its negotiators, so that during congressional hearings on the Mamasapano massacre, some legislators were so flabbergasted by the proliferation of pseudonyms that they were prompted to protest that Iqbal’s use of an alias on the peace agreement raised legal questions about the document and cast doubt on the sincerity and good faith of the MILF.
When Iqbal was pressed to disclose his real name, he declined, saying it was known to the DFA which issued him a passport. When a high-ranking MILF member was asked about Iqbal’s true identity, he replied: “What matters is not so much the name as the commitment of the parties to honor the agreement.”
Two Mindanao congressmen expressed concern over Iqbal’s use of an alias in important documents such as the peace agreement that was signed in an elaborate ceremony in Malacañang last year. They pointed out that the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Alias Law under Commonwealth Act No. 142 bar the use of pseudonyms on public documents. But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said at the same hearing that the law allowed for some exceptions as long as this was not used in concealing a crime. She was, however, unsure whether signing with an alias, like what Iqbal did, would invalidate the peace agreement. She added that as long as he stands by what he has entered into, she did not believe using an alias should be a big issue.
The question may be raised: Why give the MILF the benefit of the doubt although it appeared uncertain that the alias would be used to commit illegal acts? But the view from the Senate, which is holding hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, is less permissive than that of the government negotiating panel. Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the chair of the Senate committee on local governments, said Iqbal’s admission that his name is a mere alias “mocks” and “jeopardizes” the peace process. “By using a nom de guerre and claiming to represent the MILF, this person known as Iqbal places the entire peace process in jeopardy because he lacks the legal status to even represent and negotiate with the government,” Marcos declared. He wanted to know who had notarized the peace agreement, saying that Philippine law requires that notarized documents be signed by persons using real names. “This is the first peace agreement in the world which negotiated with a fictitious person,” he said. “This mocks the peace process.”
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