MONITORING MAGUINDANAO From Ampatuan to Mangudadatu (1): Changing the image of Maguindanao

BULUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/18 October) –  Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Gaguil Mangudadatu lives in a two-storey house here that relatives refer to as the “White House.”

The “White House” pales in comparison to the pink and peach mansions of the former Maguindanao governor, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., and his children in Shariff Aguak but in a town like Buluan,  where the Mangudadatus reign supreme, it stands out like the Ampatuan mansions —  a symbol of wealth and power amid poverty and powerlessness.

When Mangudadatu and Vice Governor Datu Ismael “Dustin” Veloso Mastura took their oath of offices shortly before noon of June 30 at the municipal stage here, they did not categorically say they would be the “complete opposite” of their predecessors, particularly the controversial Ampatuan clan, but they promised as much.

Gov. Mangudadatu (center) and Vice Gov. Mastura (right). MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

In a speech delivered in English – a choice apparently intended more for those outside rather than inside Maguindanao —  the new leadership promised “Totoong Pagbabago Para sa Maguindanaon” (Genuine Change for the Maguindanaon) through what the governor described as “consultative, participative and collective governance and transparent and accountable administrative policies without any form of oppression and violence.”

“We are not your masters but your servants,” Mangudadatu said in his 29-minute speech, one minute of that he asked for silence, to offer prayers for his wife, Genalin, two sisters and 55 others , 32 of them from the media, who were “martyred” on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, while they were en route to the provincial elections office in Shariff Aguak, to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor.

“Only non-violence can achieve a moral purpose without compromising it, especially if the purpose is Peace. It cuts through its objectives with the precision of a surgical knife, neatly excising the cancer form our body politic without damage to the surrounding tissue. The healing comes faster,” the then 41-year old governor said.

“Help us make a new chapter in Maguindanao history,” said the then 39-year old Mastura.

A hundred days later, on the same stage, Mangudadatu delivered his State of the Province Address (SOPA), this time in Pilipino, a language majority of his constituents understand.

Mangudadatu delivers his State of the Province Address. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

He spoke about the negative image of his province as the country’s third poorest province, battleground of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and home to what he said was the province with the highest number of internally displaced persons in Asia, and how, “sa kasamaang palad, sa tuwing nababanggit po ang Maguindanao, ang nasabing massacre ang agad na pumapasok sa isipan ng mga tao” (unfortunately, each time Maguindanao is mentioned, people immediately think of that massacre).

“Nais po nating baguhin ang negatibong imahe na ito ng Maguindanao. Kailanganin po natin ng panahon upang bumangon mula dito. Wala pong imposible kung tayo ay magtutulungan, kapitbisig isulong ang kapayapaan tungo sa malusog na Maguindanao” (We want to change this negative image of Maguindanao. We need time to rise from this. There is nothing impossible if we help each other. Together, let’s work for peace towards a vibrant Maguindanao), he said on his 100th day in office last Sunday, October 10.

Maguindanao’s negative image, however, was also brought about by its leaders, particularly the Ampatuans. And changing that negative image, requires not only a change in leadership but also  setting positive examples.

While the Ampatuan administration was characterized by a convoy of vehicles, mostly SUVs and  heavily armed men, military/police escorts, so is Mangudadatu’s though on a smaller scale and without sirens blaring (because “wang-wangs” have been banned under the Aquino administration).

Security was a major concern of three-term governor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. Security is also a major concern of Governor Mangudadatu, a long-time ally of the Ampatuans until he announced his plan to run for governor.

At the Peace Summit of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  last month, Mangudadatu arrived at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center in Cotabato City on board a dark bluish gray Toyota Sequoia Platinum SUV, and a convoy of about 11 vehicles, among them two Army trucks.

“I doubled my security,” he told MindaNews,” explaining the death threats against him.

The threats have not stopped.

Nearly 11 months after the massacre, the province remains under a state of emergency, with a brief period under martial law in December.

“Even mayors require escorts. There are assassination plots against me. If I have no escorts, they may just kill me,” he told MindaNews.

When he was proclaimed winner in the electoral race on May 14, Mangudadatu arrived at the Provincial Capitol in Shariff Aguak, on board a Simba tank, escorted by a military convoy.

As early as then, he had vowed not to hold office in Shariff Aguak, the Ampatuans’ bailiwick, preferring instead to stay in his hometown in Buluan, where he served as mayor and vice mayor and where the Office of the Governor is located, in a building intended to be a training center, now referred to as the “Satellite Office.”

The Ampatuans also had “satellite offices.” Ampatuan, Sr., had a “satellite office” inside the compound where his mansion stands, some 400 meters from the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak.

His son, Zaldy Ampatuan, then ARMM Governor, had a “satellite office” inside the compound where his mansion stands (across the road from his), some  54 kilometers from the seat of the ARMM in Cotabato City.

Both father and son spent more time in the “satellite office” than in their main offices.

The “Satellite Office” in Buluan, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco

Mangudadatu governs from his “Satellite Office,” so named even as there is no main office. The “Satellite Office” is presently the “main office.”

Mastura is occupying the second floor of a building in the municipal hall compound of Sultan Kudarat town, where his uncle and cousin are mayor and vice mayor.

Sultan Kudarat and Buluan towns are 120 or 140 kilometers apart – 120 via M’lang and Tulunan in North Cotabato and 140 via Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao. |[Tomorrow: Mobile Capitol]

(Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews for the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project. MindaNews is one of four partners that together comprise the PPTRP. This series is a joint PPTRP/MindaNews initiative)

From Ampatuan to Mangudadatu (2) Mobile Capitol

From Ampatuan to Mangudadatu (3) Starting from Zero