MILF is not sincere, says former DILG chief Alunan

(CNN Philippines) — "We're talking to a Jekyll and Hyde. They're talking peace but waging war."

That's the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as characterized by Rafael Alunan III, secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Alunan discussed the issue on Monday, March 16, during the first broadcast of CNN Philippines' Headline News with anchors Amelyn Veloso and Claudine Trillo.

Alunan was instrumental in raising the issue last week on the nationality of MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Mohagher Iqbal, the rebel group's chief peace negotiator with the government.

The former Interior secretary said the information was sent to him by someone, which he did not identify, through a private message on his Facebook account.

The message, as Alunan quoted in a post on Monday, reads: "Sir si MILF Chairman Murad at Iqbal, ay walang Philippine Passport. Tuwing lumalabas sila gamit nila Malaysia passport. So sa madaling salita lahat na nangyayari ang author is Malaysia."

[Translation: "Sir, MILF Chairman Murad and Iqbal don't have Philippine passports. Whenever they travel they use Malaysian passports. In short, the author of everything that's been happening is Malaysia."]

Shortly after Alunan's revelation, on Saturday, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles called for a House probe on the nationality of Murad and Iqbal.

Nograles is a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. He said it would be better if the issue could be settled first before the committee would continue its deliberations on Bangsamoro.

Foreign invading army?

In his interview with CNN Philippines, Alunan also stressed the importance of settling the question first, saying: "The significance of that input is that, if they're indeed Malaysian, what does that make of the MILF? Is that a foreign invading army? Is Malaysia waging an undeclared war?"

"Why would we give up Philippine territory to another country?" he added.

He also repeated his view that the MILF was not the right party for the government to talk to about peace, because he doubted its being representative of the majority of Muslims in Mindanao.

"We are not dealing with a sincere party," he said, calling the MILF a "hydra-headed monster."

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On the other hand, he also criticized the government for apparently being unaware of the nationality issue of Murad and Iqbal, saying: "The question to ask the government is: How come you didn't know this, considering that you have billions in intelligence funding? Where are all those intelligence funds going?"

Nom de guerre

Later in the day, CNN Philippines was able to get in touch with Iqbal via telephone, in an interview that was aired over Newsroom, the midday show anchored by Jing Magsaysay and Mai Rodriguez.

Iqbal admitted that the name he has been using is a pseudonym. Ebrahim and MILF Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar have also been using pseudonyms. The government, however, is aware of this, he said.

He added that he has a legal Philippine passport with his real name, though he did not say what it is.

"Ï am carrying an official Philippine passport," Iqbal said. "But the name I have there is not Mohagher Iqbal but my real name. And I use this passport in my travels abroad."

"I can also vouch that Chairam Murad has an official Philippine passport. But hindi Hadji Murad Ebrahim ang nandodoon," he added.

Efforts to derail peace process

In the same show, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the chief government negotiator with the MILF, said oifficiials had been aware all along about the name issue, insisting that Ebrahim, Iqbal, and Jaafar are Filipino citizens.

She pointed out that when they were travelling to Malaysia for the peace talks, the MILF officials would have to get in line for processing as foreigners at the airport.

"Their parents were born in Mindanao. They were born in Mindanao. They were raised in Mindanao. What else do we need to, you know, certify that they are Filipino citizens?" Ferrer said.

"On the matter of passports, we know that Mohagher Iqbal is not the real name. We have know it all along," she added. "It's his nom de guerre. In fact, he even has a penname. He has published several books under a different name — Salah Jubair."

She said that the allegation should have been checked first before being made public.

"I'm really concerned how a mere Facebook message can be broadcast without any investigation being done at all," she said. "This is really just part of a demolition being done on the peace process and it's unfair. It's unfair to all those concerned."

Process on hold

After decades of conflict with Muslim secessionists in Mindanao, the government finally signed a comprehensive peace treaty with the MILF, the biggest armed rebel group, on March 27, 2014.

The Senate and the House of Representatives are now in the process of forging the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would create an entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The process has been put on hold shortly after the clash in Mamasapano in Maguindanao last January 25 between Special Action Force commandos and Moro fighters, including some from the MILF – despite its ceasefire with the government.

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The police commandos — 44 of whom were killed — were able to eliminate Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, among the world's most wanted terrorists. But Marwan's Filipino cohort, Basmit Usman, was able to escape.