The mystery behind the real identity of Mohagher Iqbal remains.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Local Government on the resumption of public hearings on the Senate version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Monday, the central committee vice chairman and chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) managed to parry attempts to make him reveal his true name.
Iqbal, who earlier said he was just using a nom de guerre or an alias, insisted that the identity of all the members of the MILF will only be revealed once the BBL is enacted into law.
The BBL is intended to establish a Bangsamoro political entity in the country and will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The proposed law is based on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or the peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and the MILF. The draft law was personally submitted by President Benigno Aquino 3rd to Congress leaders on September 10, 2014.
For about two hours, the senators tried but were unsuccessful in persuading Iqbal to reveal his real name.
According to Iqbal, concealing his true identity is one of the reasons why he is still alive and openly talking in public. He said he has been using his pseudonym for more than 40 years.
“It is not a big issue. The government knows my true identity. The MILF is a revolutionary organization and those representing the MILF in the negotiations have the proper authority coming from the MILF leadership,” he explained.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd walked out of the hearing after telling the panel he would not talk to people he does not know.
“The BBL is a very important piece of legislation. I prefer discussing it with persons I know. Therefore I will just talk with you, Mr. Chairman, during the plenary,” Sotto said.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate committee, said he sees no reason for MILF officials not to reveal their real identity since they are no longer in hiding.
He added that the security issue does not apply to Iqbal anymore since he is already known to the people and using an alias is only understandable if the MILF is still at war with the Philippine government.
“While the issue on your identity at this point is not a major concern, it will be a factor the moment we proceed with the peace process further,” Marcos said, addressing Iqbal. But the MILF leader remained steadfast in his position not to give his real name and noted that the government is aware of his identity.
At this point, Marcos turned to Secretary Teresita Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and asked if she personally knows the real identity of Iqbal and if she is willing to share it with the committee.
Deles admitted that she does not know Iqbal’s true identity but said it was is not an issue since the MILF has stood by all the actions made by the chief negotiator since 1997.
Both Deles and government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said Iqbal’s use of an alias was part of his right to privacy.
“He is a very public person. He does have a family and children that carry his name. We know that the MILF still has enemies,” Deles said.
“There are privacy and security issues here. [There is a] right to privacy of any public official,” Ferrer said.
“The identity does not only have to do with the name. It has also to do with biometrics. I don’t think there is any mask in his face. He can be called different names but the fact is, he is one and the same person,” she added.
“Mr. Iqbal has been signing all the papers. He has never disappeared. Mr. Iqbal has stood by everything,” Deles said.
She added that concerns about Iqbl and his family’s security are legitimate since there are other groups that that do not want the peace process to succeed and having his real identity unveiled is not a good move.
The OPAPP chief told senators that it is the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that has a record of Iqbal’s true identity, which is indicated on his passport.
Sen. Francis Escudero moved to summon DFA officials in the next hearing and be made to present documents that will show Iqbal’s real identity.
Escudero explained that knowing Iqbal’s identity should not be brushed aside, saying it was important to know “who we really talk to, who we deal with because this small thing has a significant effect on confidence-building, which is one of the most difficult tasks in brokering peace.”
“We discuss this issue in this hearing without any allegation of deception, just information. And based on this information, Congress will act accordingly. Why is Mr. Iqbal agonizing over giving his real identity? Who is he afraid of? The military?” he said.
Escudero criticized the military for not knowing Iqbal’s real identity.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. earlier admitted that they had no accessible information to determine this.
“To my knowledge, we don’t know the real name of Iqbal,” he told the senators, prompting Escudero to remark “In those 42 years, the[Armed Forces] never thought it relevant to find the real identities of the leaders of the rebel group they have been fighting with? This is unsettling.”
He then asked the government negotiators if they are aware about any court case where the name Iqbal or his real name is a respondent.
Ferrer said they are not.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd defended Iqbal’s refusal to give his true identity, saying the MILF leader is not violating any law in concealing his name since he is a member of a revolutionary organization that is not under the control of the government.
Senate President Franklin Drilon in a statement said while the issue has no legal
implications on the peace agreement, it can be an important “confidence-building measure” that can dispel doubts on the organization’s sincerity and commitment to peace.
According to Drilon, who was Justice secretary during the first Aquino administration, the use of a nom de guerre in signing the peace agreement does not constitute any legal violation, since both parties involved fully recognized Iqbal as the MILF chief negotiator.
“What is important is that the MILF will honor and fulfill its obligations under the peace agreement,” he said.
The Senate local government committee will have four more hearings before it begins drafting its version of the BBL.
In an interview after the hearing, Marcos said the committee will conduct another hearing to continue discussion on ceasefire mechanism and proceed with its two hearings in Zamboanga and Jolo, Sulu.
Another hearing will be conducted in Manila to hear the position of other affected parties, such as the Sultanate of Sulu and the indigenous peoples in autonomous region.
At the House of Representatives, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Iqbal could face up to five years of imprisonment for using aliases, but his liability will not dissolve the BBL that he did not sign.
Rodriguez, who heads the ad hoc committee that will review the BBL, noted that Iqbal is clearly liable based on two laws: the Revised Penal Code and the Act Regulating the Use of Aliases.
Under these existing laws, no person should represent himself in any public or private transaction, sign or execute any public or private document without stating or affixing his real or original name and all names or aliases or pseudonym he or she is or may have been authorized to use. The violation of this provision is punishable with a jail time of one to five years and a fine ranging from P5,000 to P10,000.
“He [Iqbal] has criminal liability under these two laws, and its effect could be the possible invalidity of the documents he has signed,” Rodriguez, former dean of the San Sebastian College of Law, said.
“He has a criminal liability [for the use of alias], but it has no effect on the BBL because the BBL is not authored by Iqbal. The author of the BBL or House Bill 4994 is Speaker [Feliciano] Belmonte Jr. and 20 others. A bill in itself is independent. The bill is real, authentic and will proceed as it is,” he added.
Rodriguez’s committee will convene its own hearing on April 20.