COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/24 January)–Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu called on local candidates in the May 13 elections to sign a province-wide covenant to ensure honest and peaceful elections in the area.
In pushing the covenant’s signing, Mangudadatu cited the infamous massacre in Ampatuan town on November 23, 2009 that left 58 people dead, 32 of them media workers.
The carnage, the worst election-related violence in the country, was blamed on several members of the Ampatuan clan, including its patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who is now languishing in jail along with sons Zaldy and Andal Jr., former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and former mayor of Datu Unsay town, respectively.
“[I] want the election in the province free from violence this time,” he said in calling for the signing of a poll covenant among rival politicians.
Mangudadatu, the Liberal Party standard bearer, will have as rival Tocao Mastura, mayor of Sultan Kudarat town, who is running under the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan. Mastura is the uncle of incumbent Maguindanao Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura.
Mangudadatu said he is willing to sign the covenant even inside Camp Darapanan, headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Sultan Kudarat town.
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said the Front welcomes the plan of Mangudadatu.
“We want to help achieve a peaceful polls [in Maguindanao],” Jaafar said.
During the Arroyo administration, massive election fraud had been reported in Maguindanao, particularly in the 2007 midterm polls when the administration’s Team Unity senatorial sl
ate scored a 12-0 victory.
In the 2004 presidential elections, the province also figured prominently in the “Hello Garci” scandal, where former President Gloria Arroyo allegedly instructed former poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to rig the election results.
Meanwhile, at the recent turn over of command of the Maguindanao police in Shariff Aguak town, Mangudadatu and Mayor Zahara Upam Ampatuan were seen cordially talking to each other during a luncheon gathering.
“The legal battle between our families should be left in the court,” said the mayor, the wife Anwar Ampatuan who is one of the prime suspects in the Ampatuan massacre.
The mayor described Mangudadatu as a “gentleman and the gesture he showed is more of a peace covenant.”
Rival politicians in Shariff Aguak had signed a peace covenant witnessed by Fr. David Procalla, regional chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, new Maguindanao police chief Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson and Col. Edgar Gonzales, commander of the First Mechanized Brigade.
Ampatuan and her rivals, Board Member Sarip Ampatuan and Kalim Santiago, signed the covenant for honest and peaceful elections in the locality (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)