AFTER a member of the Maranao royal family questioned their legitimacy, the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front announced on Saturday that about 300 datus [traditional village leaders] along with three Maguindanao royal families will gather on Sunday for a show of support for the rebel group.
The Maguindanao leaders will gather at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City along with members of the MILF Central Committee, including MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, according to the media advisory.
The event is apparently part of a nation-wide campaign to gather support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which embodies the peace agreement the MILF reached with the government but is now being deliberated in Congress amid questions on the rebels’ sincerity.
Jaafar, who warned last month that the MILF would resume fighting if the BBL is “watered-down,” will make his first public appearance after a respected member of a Maranao royal family, lawyer Firdausi Abbas, questioned the legitimacy of the MILF leadership.
Abbas claimed that the current officials of the MILF wrested leadership of the rebel group from MILF leader Abdul Asiz, now deceased, who was the designated successor of MILF founder Hashim Salamat.
Abbas, whose family was deeply involved in the original Bangsamoro movement, criticized the MILF leaders as lawmakers questioned why the MILF leaders had to use fictitious names in seeking a historic agreement with the Philippine government.
The use of aliases by MILF chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, Jaafar and chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has stirred a legal controversy dividing leaders of the House of Representatives.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. defended its legality and said their use of aliases does not invalidate the peace agreement the MILF signed with the government.
“I wouldn’t make a big thing out of it. As long as we all know who we are talking to. We in fact have many public officials elected and serving under aliases,” Belmonte said without naming names.
Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao said Iqbal’s use of pseudonym was not an issue.
“There’s too much ado about nothing in the case of Iqbal’s use of an alias. The Catholic priest assumes an alias in becoming a pontiff. And he signs documents and state papers under that alias,” Aggabao said.
“Why would that be different from someone who assumes an alias in becoming a rebel. We are engaged in nitpicking,” he added.
He also cleared Secretary Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process and professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government peace panel chair, of any legal liability over the fact that they know Iqbal has been hiding his true identity. “I think. Deles and Ferrer have no liability whatsoever,” Aggabao said.
House Deputy Minority Leader and 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III echoed Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s position that the use of aliases by the MILF officials would have no legal implications on the peace agreements they signed.
Bello, a former peace negotiator and former justice secretary, added that the use of a nom de guerre or pseudonym by officials of revolutionary organizations was not covered by the law against the use of aliases under the Revised Penal Code.
“No law was violated; much less the Constitution,” Bello said.
But House Deputy Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles maintained that use of alias in the peace agreement and other documents with the government is prohibited under the law.
Ang Nars Rep. Leah Pacquiz said lawmakers must be able to compel Iqbal to reveal his true identity and name in an executive session of the House next week.
She said it was disturbing that the government agreed to deal with non-existent and fictitious people, especially on sensitive issue such as a peace agreement.