The most repeated question over the past several weeks in this sad country of ours has been this: What is Iqbal’s true name? The obsession over Iqbal’s name and true identity has reached such a fever-pitch that it has eclipsed what should have been the most popular Mindanao-related issue at the moment: Mommy Dionisia’s preparation for the May 2 fight. (What will she wear? What fashion advice has she gotten from Jinkee? What will be her prayer? Will she bring the boyfriend along? Is she determined not to faint this time, given the global audience of the fight?)
Sorry Mommy D.. But now is Iqbal’s moment.
The obsession over the true name of Iqbal is puzzling. It is tangential to the broader issue on how to secure peace for Muslim Mindanao. Its revelation would not unlock the key to lasting peace in the region, principally the tinderbox spot called the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. We may have the authentic story about Iqbal today, including his detailed CV, but that would not speed up the search for peace in the troubled region. But instead of being treated as a side and non-important issue, it has been the top-of-mind question of every politician who either wants to spout nonsense on prime-time news or is angling for visibility to project his or her higher political ambition.
What is in a name, asked the Bard. In Iqbal’s case, and relative to the search for peace in the Muslim areas of Mindanao, absolutely nothing. Iqbal can be called by any other name, with no impact on the peace process.
So why is Iqbal the man of the moment? How do you explain the inordinate, almost irrational, attention given to his name before he became Mohagher Iqbal, the public face of the MILF? Is there duplicity and fraud involved in the use of a nom de guerre? Why just can’t our politicians, who are supposed to write the BBL, accept the name “ Iqbal” so they can move on to the substantive issues?
I grew up in a barrio where many of the elders had nom de guerres. During the Japanese occupation, they joined the Huks to fight the Japanese – fearless fighters who fought much of the ground war during the occupation. One nom de guerre stood out in particular, Linda Bie, which was the adopted name of the late legendary Huk commander Silvestre Liwanag Sr.. My father and mother, in their late teens during that time, were in his unit. My mother, who was known for her marksmanship and willingness to fight, had the nom de guerre “ Mameng.” My late father, too low in the hierarchy, did not adopt one.
The Huks were not without a sense of humor. The one and only Huk in Linda Bie’s unit who shied away from fighting and would rather do odd jobs such as pasa bilis (courier work ) than risk his life in open combat had the nom de guerre “Commander Suicide.” Even the guerillas unwilling to fight got – if they wanted one – their nom de guerres. It is a standard thing for guerillas. Even after the Liberation, when he returned to farming, the Huk who hid in the trenches during the peak of the fighting retained the name “Commander Suicide.”
So what if Iqbal signs documents using his nom de guerre? That is a standard thing and there’s no duplicity to that.
What is really terrifying about the Muslim part of Mindanao are the vital statistics about the region. If you look at data on the financial penetration in the region, it is just as worse as the conditions in the sub-Sahara. The BSP data say that 93 percent of the towns and cities of the ARMM are “unbanked” which simply means only 7 percent of the region is served by the financial mainstream.
This simply means that much of the movement of money in the region does not need the banks, or any deposit-taking institution. And this is worrisome as this tends to be a situation where dark money dominates. What could be the main money-generating activities under this scenario? Kidnap-for-ransom is one. Smuggling using the porous borders is one. Killing people for a fee is one. Given the history of violence in the region, an economy that is off the mainstream is terrifying as terrifying can be.
Were it not for Yolanda, which placed Eastern Visayas as the poorest region in the country, ARMM would have not been displaced from its place as the poorest region \– a position it had held since the ARMM became a congressional creation. The poverty figure, from time immemorial, has been between 50 to 60 percent, and this is a figure that does not quite grasp the depth of poverty in the region.
That has been the same figure for the rate of illiteracy. And Uganda, which used to be ruled by a cannibal-leader, has a better literacy rate than the ARMM.
Let us not go into malnutrition, drop-out rate, state of health care and services and the morbidity rate.
All of these horrific data about Muslim Mindanao have not figured out in the debate over the BBL. There is no talk about a Marshall Plan-type of intervention to address the massive poverty and underdevelopment. If there is ever talk of funding, it is lump sum budgeting, which may just line up the pockets of the usual petty tyrants in the region. What is becoming clear is this: ARMM and the proposed BBL are part of a geopolitical issue in the West Philippine Sea and they may be pawns in that issue.
The lack of focus on what basically ails Muslim Mindanao – and the urgency to craft a Marshall Plan-type intervention to lift it from depression – is probably the reason so much time and effort is being spent on official time on side issues such as Iqbal’s true name.
Worse than the desperation and hopelessness in the ARMM is the depravity of the policy approaches to ease the woes of the nation’s poorest and most illiterate region.