Abp Quevedo: is there another way of choosing leaders in the ARMM?

“Considering how voting has been done in this region since the time I first voted in Cotabato in the 1960s, I realized that there is a distinct traditional political structure, with possible cultural and perhaps religious elements, at work in how leaders are elected,” Quevedo said.

Quevedo was responding to a discussion on Shura (consultation) which Maguindanao administrator, Engr. Norie Unas, claimed was the reason behind the 12-0 sweep in favor of the administration’s Team Unity, in the province.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Unas as saying Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan held consultations with officials to get people to go for bloc voting; that failure to heed the consensus is sanctioned but he did not specify what punishment awaited those who defied the consensus.

“We often land in the headlines because of perceived manipulation, but if you become familiar with the (Islamic) culture of consultation, you would find nothing unusual,” PDI quoted him as saying.

Genuine Opposition spokesperson Adel Tamano, however, expressed doubts on the use of Shura, especially given that Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson topped the race and Sultan Jamalul Kiram, a Mindanawon and the lone Muslim in the Team Unity slate, landed on the 12th spot.

Maguindanao’s 12-0 sweep also triggered more criticisms following claims by a teacher who phoned DZRH in Manila that no election was held in the province. Several other instances of electoral fraud were also reported, prompting the creation of Task Force Maguindanao which Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos ordered to investigate the alleged cheating in Maguindanao.

Similar complaints of fraud were also reported in the other ARMM provinces — Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Shariff Kabunsuan and Lanao del Sur and the lone ARMM city of Marawi. 

ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, the Maguindanao governor’s son, expected a 12-0 sweep but didn’t cite the Shura as reason.  He told MindaNews at around 9 a.m. on election day, while waiting for his uncle, the former Justice Secretary Simeon Ampatuan Datumanong to finish voting at the Shariff Aguak Central Elementary School,  that “actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed,  these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.”

“So it is definitely 12-0 here?,” MindaNews asked.

His reply: “Basically ganon ang mangyari pero iba ang sabihin ng 12-0. Ang meaning kasi ng 12-0 sa amin dito is yung first 12 candidates na boto ay in favor of Team Unity yung Opposition makakuha from 13 down to the last.”

Two days later, returns from 17 of the 22 provinces would show exactly as the ARMM governor had said although why Kiram, the lone Muslim in the slate, made it only to the 12th remains unanswered.

In his note, Quevedo added that the political and social structure “is rooted in the role of traditional leaders in the community. Such role also has some relationship with concepts of communal property and the like. Hence what leaders would decide for the community would be acceptable to the community and thus would likewise express the will of the community.”

“For this reason, I wrote that instead of the way elections are conducted everywhere else, perhaps in ARMM, in consideration of accepted traditional power structures and cultural values, ARMM elections should be by a council of elders or the like in a given municipality or province. Thus the Shura idea enters the picture. To my Muslim friends does this opinion hold water? I am presenting this idea in anticipation of discussions regarding the kind of governance and how leaders are selected in the region in accord with religious and cultural values after a peace agreement. Such discussions, of course, should be by and among Muslims themselves. I just wonder if my outsider observation, presented humbly and respectfully, has any sense.”

Quevedo sent the note after reading the Khutba (sermon) on Shura, which e-group member, lawyer Zen Malang of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy, posted.

Khutba means Friday sermon at the mosque.  Since last year, the Assembly of the Da’rul Ifta of the Philippines in the ARMM has been adopting common themes for the Khutbas for a region-wide synchronized delivery.

The Khutba on April 26 this year was on Shura. It noted that Allah “sent the Prophet Muhammad as Mercy to the creations” and that Muhammad “was the best person ever created by Allah, the seal of prophethood, and yet he listened and took the opinion of his companions.”

Consultation, it said, “teaches a person on how he should conduct his affairs so that he will not become too egotistical and on the other hand, he will not lightly abandon the responsibilities which devolve on him as a personality whose development counts in the eyes of the Almighty.”

But the Khutba also said consultation “certainly implies transparency, open-mindedness which can only happen with respect, trust, empowerment, freedom of expression, readiness to be criticized, and acceptance of divergent views. This principle was applied to its fullest extent by the Holy Prophet in his private and public life, and was fully acted upon by the early Caliphs of Islam.”

“In the days of the Holy Prophet, consultation was practiced among leaders of various tribes or groups. The social system of the time was such that these leaders were the most influential as they had proven their prowess in various fields, especially, physical strength, mental agility and eloquence in speech,” it said.

Lawyer Suharto Ambolodto, head of the Caucus on Muslim Mindanao Affairs and a former official at the Commission on Elections, said Quevedo’s proposal was “the most cultural-sensitive and politically responsive position.”

“Such would be better than taking the Moros to task for being able to adjust rapidly and positively to a creeping culture and be almost exactly like somebody else,” he said.

Ambolodto added that “had people been as perceptive as you are, or at least listened to such an admonition, we might have moved further.”

He said the Ampatuans in Maguindanao “are making leaps because they followed the tradition of the great (Sultan) Kudarat – ‘Unite and Govern.’”

“But some people cannot simply stomach that a portion of the Moro people has been freed from the ills inflicted by elections. Some people simply cannot allow that a community, or at least a family in Mindanao can almost hold the central government under its sway. This is the very first time since Kudarat that the Moro people are consolidating through their clan leaders who are the natural spokesmen and representatives of the clans and their vassalage,” Ambolodto said.

In response to Ambolodto, Kyoto-based Prof. Patricio Abinales of Ozamiz City, historian and author of several books on Mindanao, including “Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State,” said, “No, the Ampatuans are making the leap because (President) Arroyo decided that the political clans — with their private armies and their quest for patronage in Manila — will ensure her win there. Passing on power to the MILF would be more messy. It’s not tradition at work here, it’s warlord power disguised as ‘shura.’”

Ambolodto replied, “It is the consensus of the warlords, holding sway over their vassals. These political clans were courted, are courted and will continue to be courted by Manila because they have sustainable power base.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)