MANILA, Philippines – After Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted he had used an alias in signing a historic peace deal with the Philippine government, Malacañang came to his defense and said there was no “deception” in the act.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a news briefing on Friday, April 10, that the government knew all along Iqbal was using an alias.
“At least on the side of the executive, allow me to say that the real names of the MILF negotiators are of course known to the Philippine government, and in fact, they possess Philippine passports as issued by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs),” she said.
Valte added: "Yes, that’s quite clear. There’s no deception on their part because they made their real names known to government."
She said in past negotiations, negotiators from the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Moro National Liberation Fron (MNLF), and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) "were allowed the courtesy to continue using their aliases...as a matter of personal security.”
Malacañang also said the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the culmination of the peace deal with the MILF, “should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself."
The administration’s defense of Iqbal comes after Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr joined Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles in criticizing Iqbal's use of an alias, saying it “mocks” and “jeopardizes” the peace process.
The controversy over Iqbal's pseudonym started with a Facebook post of former interior secretary Rafael Alunan III, who cited information from an anonymous source that Iqbal and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim supposedly hold Malaysian passports.
Iqbal responded by releasing a copy of his Philippine passport, but covered the portion showing his real name.
Iqbal has defended his use of various aliases, refusing to divulge his real name. Iqbal argued that using a "nom de guerre (war name)" is common among revolutionary groups, and even heroes.
De Lima: Nothing wrong with alias
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also saw nothing wrong with Iqbal's use of an alias, and said it is not basis to invalidate the peace agreement between the government and the MILF which Iqbal had signed.
“I don't think it will affect the authenticity or the very legality of the document just because it is signed under a nom de guerre or an alias, because he has already admitted that he used an alias. He can no longer deny such representation. The doctrine of estoppel comes in,” she said.
The DOJ chief added, “He is now in estoppel to deny that it is his signature that he knowingly affixed his signature in the agreement so the validity of the agreement cannot be considered as having been affected.
De Lima echoed the Palace position that it is common practice for rebel leaders to use a nom de guerre when engaging in peace negotiations as a security precaution.
“If we do not allow them the courtesy to continue using such 'nom de guerre' whenever they are involved in a peace process do you think that peace process would continue?" she asked.
She said Article 178 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits the use of fictitious names, only applies when the person is using an alias to commit a crime.
De Lima said the Commission on Elections (Comelec), for example, had allowed former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada to use "Erap" – an alias – in his campaigns and in his votes.
The alias issue now threatens to cloud the Senate discussion on the BBL, already imperiled by the January 25 clash between elite cops and Moro rebels in the MILF stronghold of Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Malacañang however, continues to push for the bill.
Peace council 'legal'
Valte also defended the Palace-created Peace Council amid questions on its legality in the absence of an executive order, and emphasized that no public funds will be used for the council.
“Well, in the first place, I don’t know why it would be illegal because it’s a private group that is not being funded by government. They responded to the President’s call to organize themselves, the co-convenors did, and that everything will be done separately and independently," she said.
Valte noted that Aquino "only tasked the two convenors and it was up to them who they would add."
“We have no hand in the selection; we have no hand in anything else. These community leaders and private individuals have agreed to form this council, again, which will not supplant Congress in any way to be able to contribute to the national discussion on BBL.”