Iqbal: We are still FilipinosBy Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“We are Filipinos.”
That was Mohagher Iqbal’s answer when Marvic Leonen asked him if the playing of the national anthem would be all right for the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Leonen said he raised the question during talks with MILF leaders in Kuala Lumpur prior to the Oct. 15 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The playing of the national anthem was to be part of the signing ceremonies.
When Leonen, the chief government peace negotiator, heard the answer of Iqbal, his counterpart from the MILF, he told himself, “This is the best proof against all skeptics that there is going to be a separatist movement down south.”
Leonen related the story on Thursday night as he spoke about the peace process with the MILF at a meeting of the Rotary Clubs of Makati Bel-Air, Makati Dasmariñas, Makati Urdaneta, and Parañaque St. Andrew, all belonging to Rotary International District 3830.
His friend, lawyer Raffy Aquino, who invited Leonen to the event, told the Inquirer he initially told the government chief negotiator that his talk could be held in November, as the Rotarians expected him to be quite busy.
“But he asked if he could speak before the Rotarians this week. I think Marvic wanted to get to as many people as possible to explain to them himself the framework agreement,” Aquino said.
The Rotarians sighed with relief after Leonen had narrated his conversation with Iqbal, which took place when the two of them met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the protocols to be followed in Malacañang for the Oct. 15 signing of the framework agreement to end the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.
“I went to Kuala Lumpur for an informal meeting with my counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, the Friday (before the signing) to go through the program that would happen on a Monday,” Leonen began his story.
“Because we knew it was the first time they would enter Malacañang, we went through security procedures… that they would pass through two metal detectors, that MILF chair Murad Ebrahim would not be frisked, but everybody else, [including me], would be frisked . . .
“And as we talked about this, I asked them, ‘Are you comfortable with the national anthem?’ And you know without batting an [eye], they said instinctively, ‘Of course, we are still Filipinos,’” Leonen said.
Respect for religion
The only question Iqbal asked him was if the MILF members needed to put their right hand on their chests as the “Lupang Hinirang” was played.
“I asked, ‘Why?’” Leonen said. Iqbal explained it was because they were Muslims.
“[As] far as we are concerned, we respect our citizenship, but let us also give due [respect] to our religion,” Leonen recalled Iqbal as telling him.
Leonen said he assured Iqbal that putting one’s right hand on one’s chest while the national anthem was being sung was “optional.”
“We are not asking you to salute. Therefore they told me, ‘Yes, we are going to stand up,’ and when the national anthem was indeed played in that room in Malacañang, I saw them stand up, all of them to the last man, except one, their ustadz who was [in a] wheelchair. To the last person, they did stand up and they looked at the Philippine flag. Some of them tried to sing the national anthem,” Leonen said.
Leonen also told the Rotarians that he got a little bit concerned about how Iqbal would react to an Inquirer story that quoted him (Leonen) as saying the MILF chief negotiator’s tears fell while watching President Aquino announce the completion of the framework agreement.
They’re humans, too
“At that informal meeting in Kuala Lumpur, I checked with him (Iqbal) if it was all right with him that I shared the story (with the Inquirer). He told me, ‘It’s all right. I want the world to know we are humans, too,’” Leonen said.