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Iqbal’s use of alias blown out of proportion – Drilon

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DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines – Compelling Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal to reveal his true name “is making a mountain out of a molehill,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said yesterday.

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the MILF official’s using an alias is a “non-issue.”

“What we talk about here is peace in Mindanao, the pursuit of peace talks which will be the basis for stability to have progress and economic growth to provide employment to the people,” Drilon told reporters here after addressing new graduates at the Pangasinan State University. “That is the issue, peace in Mindanao, the peace agreement.”

Drilon stressed that Iqbal’s use of an alias is ‘‘only a side issue that will not affect the peace agreement signed.”

He said even Sens. Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada could be said to be using aliases or assumed names. Revilla’s real name is José Marie Mortel Bautista while Estrada’s is José Pimentel Ejército Jr.

“But in all, they sign committee reports, laws in the Senate, but these don’t mean they were illegal. In the peace agreement, it’s the same, as what’s important is the MILF recognizes Iqbal as its official peace negotiator,” Drilon said.

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The Senate chief also emphasized that Iqbal’s use of an alias is not prohibited under the law.

“What is important there is that it is binding on the MILF and the MILF said he is Mr. Iqbal, their representative,” he pointed out.

“Let us not forget that the issue here is peace in Mindanao,” he said.

He said the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is still being deliberated upon by lawmakers, would only bear the signatures of the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Aquino. He said it’s the BBL as a law that would be binding.

“The peace agreement was the basis of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which we are debating on and ultimately we will pass, so what is binding is the law that we will pass and which will be ratified by the people of Mindanao,” he said.

Drilon said he is optimistic of the passage of the BBL before June.

 

‘Non-issue’

At the House of Representatives, Belmonte said “what is relevant is the proposed BBL” and not Iqbal’s using an assumed name.

“We are of course interested in Mr. Iqbal’s true name and identity, but that is not what we are tackling here. What we are tackling is the proposed BBL,” said Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the 75-member ad hoc committee on the draft BBL.

Senators on Monday grilled Iqbal for hours about his real name.

Citing security considerations, the MILF negotiator and his government counterpart, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, refused to reveal his name despite repeated pleas from senators.

Unlike the Senate, Rodriguez said his committee would no longer invite Iqbal to its closed-door hearings on the draft BBL, which will start next Monday.

“We have no more plan to invite him. We will do what we have to do to make the proposed BBL constitutional and acceptable to the people of Mindanao, whether his name is Mohagher Iqbal, Luis Abas or Sallah Jubair,” he said.

On Tuesday, The STAR, citing reliable sources, reported that Iqbal was known as Luis Abas when he joined the Moro National Liberation Front. The MILF is a splinter group of the MNLF.

Iqbal has written two books on the peace process using the pen name Sallah Jubair, according to Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles.

Rodriguez said his committee and the Senate apparently have a consensus on removing provisions in the draft BBL that would weaken the powers of constitutional bodies like the Commission on Audit and the Commission on Elections.

“But we will insist on the fiscal autonomy provisions, which the Senate wants to dilute. We are for keeping these provisions as contained in the draft, save for minor changes,” he said. – With Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez

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