THE use of aliases by leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is no small matter, because MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal violated the law when he used an alias to open a bank account, Senator Francis Escudero said Monday during the resumption of the hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
But government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer again defended the MILF leadership’s use of aliases and said even former President Joseph Estrada, who was born Jose Marcelo Ejercito, signed officials documents during his tenure under an alias.
During the resumption of the hearing of the Senate committee on local government, Escudero asked Iqbal if he has bank accounts under the name Mohagher Iqbal.
“The Anti-Money Laundering Law prohibits the use of aliases and you can can only use your real name. So even in bank accounts, you’re using Iqbal?”
“Yes,” Iqbal answered.
But Ferrer defended Iqbal’s use of an alias saying there had never been any question as to who the “Mister Iqbal” in the peace process was.
She also said identity does not only involve the name, but had to do with biometrics—fingerprints and the face.
“I don’t think there is a mask that disguises his real face. He can be called by different names but the fact remains that he is the one and the same person who signed this document,” Ferrer said.
Marcos replied: “Well, that is perhaps acceptable to those who are familiar with him, but there are millions more who are not. That is why this issue about his true name becomes important,” he said.
“You know who he is. You have seen him everyday for a long time, fine. but the rest of us do not. You have to understand that there is this concern. We’re not sure whom we are dealing with. Yes, we are sure that he is the designated chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, but we do not even know his name. That seems to me a very unusual and peculiar situation,” Marcos added.
Iqbal had earlier begged senators led by Marcos not to compel him to reveal his true identity, citing security risks to him and his family.
“We use nom de guerre to protect myself, my family, and the struggle. If I was harmed and killed, perhaps I would not be here in this august body,” said Iqbal, adding that the situation behind his using an alias was complicated.
But he said the government knows his real identity. He said the government has known everything about him since he was engaging the government for 42 years.
“Nothing can be hidden from the government. They know it. I think the government should answer for that,’’ he said.
He related that when they started their revolutionary struggle, the situation was very difficult, and that many of his relatives were arrested and incarcerated.
“That gave enough reason for anyone, really to adopt measures that would ensure that their security is not compromised,” he said.
He has been using his nom de guerre since February 1979 when the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos invited to Malacañang representatives from the Hashim Salamat faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which would later be named the MILF.
‘’Already four presidents, from Ramos to Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino, this nom de guerre has never been questioned. It is part of confidence-building,’’ Iqbal said.
But Marcos emphasized that using an alias does not inspire confidence.
Iqbal replied that he would divulge his true name when the BBL is passed into law.
When the BBL is passed by Congress and hopefully ratified, that will be the time everything will normalize and we can disclose everything, including our identities. But at this point in time, I request this honorable body not to compel me to disclose my identity,’’ he said.
Ferrer and presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles came to the defense of Iqbal, saying his use of an alias was part of his right to privacy.
“There are privacy and security issues here. There is a right to privacy of any public official,” said Ferrer.
Deles on the other hand said Iqbal is a very public person who does have a family and children that carry his name.
“We know that the MILF still has enemies,” said Deles who admitted that she didn’t know his true identity.
Ferrer said she had known Iqbal’s real name due to her study of the Moro struggle.
Senators have maintained that using an alias also put to question the the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process.
Because Iqbal refused to reveal his true identity, acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III walked out of the hearing, saying he would not talk to people he did 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,” he said.
Also on Monday, a Manila City Hall official said Mayor Joseph Estrada is not using his name as an alias to conceal his real identity, unlike Iqbal and other members of the MILF.
Manila City Hall media officer Bambi Purisima said Estrada, who was born Joseph Marcelo Ejercito in the Tondo district of Manila, on April 19, 1937, started to use his present when he became an actor.
“The mayor is a registered voter under the name Joseph Ejercito Estrada. He ran under that name and if my memory serves me right, the Supreme Court cleared him of using an alias when he was charged for graft by the Sandiganbayan,” Purisima said.
Purisima added that the mayor used the name Estrada when his parents refused to let him use the family name in the movies.
The Palace on Monday said Iqbal’s use of an alias was of no relevance to the peace process.
“I think all parties, including the senators, agree that the nom de guerre of Mr. Iqbal should not affect the peace process, and as Senator Marcos mentioned, a tangential issue. We hope at some point the issue of Mr. Iqbal’s true name will be resolved,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. – With Vito Barcelo and Sandy Araneta