THE government has known the real names of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders since the peace process started in 1997, a Palace official said Friday after lawmakers criticized their use of aliases in signing a peace agreement with the government.
“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 Department of Forteign Affairs,” said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte, during a press briefing in Malacanang.
Valte said when the peace process started in 1997, the MILF negotiators like previous rebel group negotiators—notably from the National Democratic Front and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army—were allowed the courtesy of using their aliases which they used for security reasons when they were part of their respective underground movements.
She also dismissed suggestions that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would be affected by the refusal of MILF leaders to reveal their real names.
“The BBL should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself, or of the draft bill itself, and not other attendant issues that may be related but perhaps are not really at the core of the main points of the BBL draft itself,” she said.
Valte also said there was no deception on the part of the MILF.
“Their real names are known to government so there was no deception on their part. There’s no deception on their part because they made their real names known to the government,” she said.
Valte’s statement Friday contradicted presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles, who said she only learned that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal used an alias when he admitted this before a congressional hearing.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the use of aliases by the MILF officials would have no legal implications on the peace agreements they signed.
She said the use of a nom de guerre or pseudonym by officials of revolutionary organizations was “common practice” and was not covered by the law against the use of aliases under the Revised Penal Code.
“If we do not allow them the courtesy to continue using such nom de guerre whenever they are involved in the peace process, do you think the peace process would be successful?” she said.
De Lima also compared the MILF leaders to the use of screen names by movie personalities such as former President Joseph Estrada, whose real name is Joseph Ejercito.
She said the question should not affect the validity or legality of the documents they signed.
Two administration lawmakers, however, disagreed.
House Deputy Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said it was time that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal reveal his true identity and sign the peace agreement again using his real name.
“Is it legally binding on the MILF if their representative signs with a fake name? What other concealments, deceptions and hidden secrets are behind the peace agreement? No wonder our officials in the Bureau of Immigration could not find any travel records belonging to Mohagher
Iqbal. Because that is not his real name. So please tell us for the sake of transparency what is the real name of Mohagher Iqbal?” Nograles said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. agreed, and urged the MILF leaders to show their sincerity by using their real names.
At the Palace briefing, Valte also defended President Benigno Aquino III’s move to create a National Peace Council, saying this violated no law.
“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-conveners did, and that everything will be done separately and independently. In fact, the President only tasked the two conveners. It’s up to them who the other people they would choose to be part of the council. 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,” said Valte.
She also said other questions about the National Peace Council should be addressed to them, since they have already been organized.
Valte also declined to comment on the warning from chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer that war could erupt if Congress does not pass the BBL.
“As our chief negotiator, she has an extensive background on the negotiations, on the situation there. And it is not uncommon for her or any of our negotiators to see that the alternative to BBL would be more violence,” Valte said.
“As the President said, we have a chance to end it now, and there are many factors that are in our favor to be able to give it a real shot at peace in that region. So all we’re saying is that we give it a chance. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have a rational discourse on the merits and what can be improved in the draft that was submitted,” Valte said.
She also said the President has been clear in urging Congress to “preserve the core principles, the provisions that support real autonomy.”
Valte said she did not know if the peace agreement was on the agenda when the President visits Malaysia in April.