Civil society: let Ina serve until June 30

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 February) – Civil society representatives are worried over reports that Acting Maguindanao Governor Bai Nariman “Ina” Ambolodto will be replaced by a traditional politician soon.

Earlier, on January 28,  Local Governments Undersecretary Marius Corpus told reporters at the DILG in Quezon City that “as part of overall efforts by the government to normalize operations in the said province,” a search committee in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  has begun screening 27 nominees for acting Maguindanao governor who will serve until June 30.
In a press release posted on the DILG website, Corpus said the search committee headed by ARMM Local Governments Secretary Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman Jr. is “carefully pouring over the qualifications of some 27 nominees for the position.”

The press release did not name the 27 nominees but it added that among the requirements of the search committee is that “he or she should not be running for any elective position in the coming May elections; has the capacity to govern and ability to effect reforms in the province.”

“Cruel Joke”

Civil society representatives argue that Ambolodto meets all the qualifications and requirements of the search committee: she is not running for any post in May, she has the capacity to govern and the ability to effect reforms in the province, and has in fact set up basic governance systems in the province in the 45 days she has been acting governor.  Ambolodto is the first female Maguindanaon governor in history.

“Those who are orchestrating (the replacement of Ambolodto) are people who are not willing to change the politics in Maguindanao,” Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc., and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) told MindaNews by telephone from his base in Cotabato City.

“The leadership of the trapos has proven ineffective. Ina is already planting the seed of good governance. The series of consultations she has been conducting is making the people feel they are part of the government,” he said.

Irene Santiago, executive director of the Mindanao Commission on Women, says changing Ambolodto would be “a cruel joke on the people!”

“At this time when people’s faith in government has been badly shaken, we need officials like Ina who have foremost in their minds the people’s welfare and not their own. That is precisely why the Mindanao Commission on Women is forming a task force called ‘Ina’s Circle’ to support Ina in her efforts to bring about effective governance in Maguindanao.”

Mindanews Photo by Froilan Gallardo

Ambolodto is the keynote speaker in the Mindanao Women’s Congress dubbed Kamindanawan 2010 on February 4 in Davao City.

“Sad day”

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance in Cotabato City and former Notre Dame University president considers it “a sad day when a traditional politician becomes an acting governor.”

“Ina is doing well and it will be great if she is allowed to normalize the province until a new one is elected,” he said.

Fatmawati Salapuddin, public relations coordinator of the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women  said those who want to replace Ambolodto “do not want us to see an example of good governance in any part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). That’s the only reason they want to replace (her) in Maguindanao because she is doing a good job serving the people there.”

Ambolodto, 40, elected provincial board member of Shariff Kabunsuan in 2007 and  appointed 1st provincial board member of the reconstituted Maguindanao in 2009 (after Shariff Kabunsuan’s creation was declared unconstitutional and it was returned to its mother province), was appointed OIC Vice Governor of Maguindanao and immediately after, was also sworn in as Acting Governor, on December 15, ten days after then OIC Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., was arrested for alleged rebellion.

Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno named her OIC Vice Governor and Acting Governor.

The January 28 press release of the DILG quoted ARMM Executive Secretary Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo as saying the search committee will ensure that the acting Maguindanao governor shall have been named within the period allowed for the filling up of positions under the Election Code.  A total freeze or ban on the appointment of positions in the government begins on March 26 this year.

Many applicants

Sinarimbo told MindaNews in a telephone interview Monday morning that they hope to name the OIC governor “this February.”

He said Ambolodto is not among the 27 nominees “but she can apply or be nominated.”
He said Ambolodto is “not being replaced” as she was actually appointed OIC Vice Governor and was just named Acting Governor.

Asked who nominated the 27, the Cotabato City-based Sinarimbo said “most of them applied” for the post. “There are many applicants for governor.”
MindaNews asked for a list of the 27 nominees but Sinarimbo, who said he was on his way to Manila to sign a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agreement grant) to the ARMM,  said he  “will try to ask our staff” to e-mail the list.

Ali Macabalang, chief of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information told MindaNews he would e-mail the list immediately after receiving a copy. He said “the figure may be more than 27 but it’s better if we have the list.”

MindaNews sources in Maguindanao said among the 27 persons who is reportedly being pushed for OIC governor by administration partymates is Guimid Matalam, who recently withdrew his candidacy for congressman against incumbent Maguindanao 2nd district Rep. and former Justice Secretary Simeon Ampatuan Datumanong (Lakas-Kampi).

Matalam, son of the late Datu Udtog who set up the Mindanao Independence Movement in 1968, was representative of the 2nd district of Maguindanao from 1987 to 1992 and from 2001 to  2004. He was ARMM Vice Governor under then ARMM Governor Nur Misuari (1996 to 2001). He ran for ARMM governor in 2001 but lost to Parouk Hussin. He ran again for ARMM governor in 2005 and 2008 but lost to Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, son of the former OIC Maguindanao governor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

Sinarimbo acknowledged Matalam was among the applicants. He said Matalam had recommendations from various sectors.

“Transition Governor”

Ambolodto did not file her certificate of candidacy for any post in the May 2010 polls “for personal reasons.”  She made the decision even before the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao which implicated the Ampatuans.

Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr.,  mayor of Datu Unsay town and reportedly the leader of the armed men who stopped the convoy of the Mangudadatus from Buluan, Maguindanao, is facing charges of multiple murder. At least 58 persons were massacred, 32 of them from the media.

Ambolodto, a graduate of the public school system in elementary, the Notre Dame for Girls in Cotabato City  for  high school, the Notre Dame University for college and University of the Philippines in Diliman for her Masters in Islamic Studies, sees herself as a “transition governor.”

Ambolodto has listed as her mission until June 30, the following:  “to create an atmosphere to regularize the operation of the various offices in the provincial government; support conduct of free, orderly and peaceful elections; and facilitate smooth transition and assumption of duly elected officials.”

For a little over a month now, Ambolodto has put in place basic governance systems including as basic as institutionalizing office hours and meeting regularly with heads of offices.  She told MindaNews in an interview on January 21 that she hopes her efforts would be appreciated and followed by the person who would assume the post of governor on June 30 this year.

She declined to answer questions on how much funds were left in the provincial coffers when she assumed post on December 15. The Commission on Audit, she says, has completed the audit and should be ready with its report.

What she will answer for is what her administration has received. Maguindanao’s Internal Revenue Allotment is P84.4 million a month. A stickler for transparency in transactions, Ambolodto said she hopes she will be audited every month.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)