THE stretch of time that has been spent by our good lawmakers talking about Mohagher Iqbal’s name has surprised me. I thought it was merely one of those (many) things that were being used to grandstand, the way we’ve seen Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Sonny Trillanes do it by way of the anti-Binay Senate Hearings.
The discussion on Iqbal’s name has also gone on way too long and revealed more about our senators than about Iqbal himself. Because all this time spent on discussing a name is time wasted not discussing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and what to do with it now, how to revise / reconfigure it at this point, how to continue on the path to peace?
Legalities and repercussions
One gets it, that there are legal repercussions to having Iqbal sign with his alias on government documents, and more importantly signing onto a peace agreement with that alias. Senator Ping Lacson has said on radio: “What I know is there is a law prohibiting the use of aliases in official documents. … Kung alam na iyan nina Ferrer at Deles, maaaring may pananagutan din sila.” (Politiko, 10 Apr).
He is of course talking about Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles and Chief Peace Negotiator Professor Miriam Ferrer, and pointing a finger – the way too many in the Senate have – at these two women.
Yet it makes sense to me that both women would respect the fact of an alias, given that Malacañang itself knows that Iqbal is using one, and has allowed him to negotiate with and sign on to this peace agreement (Inquirer.net, 11 Apr). It makes sense that if the Palace itself had no problem dealing with the man called Mohaguer Iqbal, that the negotiating panel would not have reason to question it either.
After all, there are more important things to discuss, more critical and pressing matters to occupy their time, especially since this is an agreement that seeks to bring peace in a geographic space and for a people that has suffered long enough living with war and violence.
There is also this: not only has Secretary Deles cited other peace agreements elsewhere in the world where aliases have been used (Inquirer.net, 13 Apr), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has explained that this is not extraordinary, that a rebel leader would use a nom de guerre during peace negotiations (BusinessWorld Online, 10 Apr). It’s a security precaution and not cause to distrust someone like Iqbal.
Certainly not reason to dismiss the BBL, or scrap it altogether.
Aliases and fictions
But Senator Bongbong Marcos, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Local Governments is not accepting any of these explanations, and seems to be the Cayetano of these hearings. Senator Marcos has taken it about as far as Cayetano has the Binay hearings, skewing the discussion to the point of: duh.
“This is entirely the first peace agreement in the world which a government negotiated with a fictitious person!” Senator Marcos exclaimed (Inquirer.net, 9 Apr). Yet it’s pretty clear that an alias does not make a person a fiction. A person using another name, for reasons that are valid, makes that a real person who carries multiple names.
Neither is he a ghost, which is also what Senator Marcos has claimed, saying of Iqbal: “…As Filipino citizens, they are … bound by the laws of the Senate, and therefore, place themselves under the jurisdiction of this august chamber. As such, this Senate has the power to ask, nay require, in aid of legislation, those who appear before us to reveal their true identities. The Senate wants to know if we are negotiating with a ghost or a true person” (Inquirer.net, 9 Apr)
In aid of what legislation exactly, one wonders. Ah, the BBL! The peace agreement they have yet to discuss.
Certainly an alias is a valid point to raise. But the explanations so far, from Deles, Ferrer and de Lima all make sense, and only the Senate would imagine that they might be speaking to a ghost.
Or that this remains “an august chamber.”
Because there is nothing that reminds us of how dignified the Senate is, than having Senator Tito Sotto walk out on a hearing that is about discussing the BBL. Nothing that reminds us of the eminence of the Senate than Senator Chiz Escudero equating the name Mohaquer Iqbal with Snow White and Cinderella, and agreeing that the name is a small thing – but why is it that Iqbal cannot give it to the Senate? (GMANewsOnline, 13 Apr)
One wonders if the Senate realizes that the past week has revealed a lack of compassion and kindness, if not understanding, about the repercussions of revealing Iqbal’s real name at this point in time. Secretary Deles has explained how Iqbal’s public persona puts his family in danger. Which makes sense: Iqbal’s real name would reveal who his children are, and in the context of a peace agreement yet to be made into law, this would put their lives at risk.
But Senator Marcos: “The gentleman is sitting here in front of cameras. So many people are seeing his face. The question of security is no longer part of the context” (Inquirer.net, 13 Apr). Which makes no sense at all, and reveals only the lack of compassion for the family and children of a rebel negotiating with government for peace.
As I write this, news articles have come out not just with Iqbal’s alleged real name, but also other aliases.
Now who pays for the danger we have put Iqbal’s family in? Will any of the good men from the august chamber raise their hands?