DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 January) – “Tao lang ako. Kung may nakikita kayong mali ko, sabihan nyo ako” (I’m just human. If I do something wrong, tell me),’ Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu told an anti-corruption forum Tuesday.
He told an audience of journalists, students, teachers and representatives of non-government organizations in Maguindanao and Davao City about the Maguindanaons’ need for change and “totoong serbisyo” (genuine service) and how he has been trying to implement his administration’s eight-point agenda in the past seven months.
Mangudadatu assumed the post of governor on June 30.
In his speech, however, he cited only three of his eight-point agenda: health services but citing only the province’s mobile hospital; education services but citing only the province’s 1,000 college scholars; and livelihood support through provision of oil palm seedlings to constituents for planting.
The governor was vague about what measures his administration has undertaken to avoid a repeat of the Ampatuan era. The Ampatuans ruled the province from 2001 until the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, on November 23, 2009. Fifty-three of the victims were en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, from Buluan town, to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, for governor.
The convoy of the victims and five others in two vehicles that happened to pass the highway at the same time, were stopped along the highway of Ampatuan town by about a hundred armed men reportedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., herded to the foothills of Daguma Range in sitio Masalay, barangay Salman, some three kilometers from the highway, and there gunned down, more than half of them buried by the time Army troops arrived and a helicopter owned by the Mangudadatus’ flew over.
Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, a social anthropologist and project leader of Ehem Anti-Corruption Movement, who spoke at the forum before Mangudadatu did, said the Friday before the massacre, Mangudadatu and his brother Toy were in his office, asking for prayers, that they could help bring change in Maguindanao.
Alejo quoted Mangudadatu as saying, “Father, ipagdasal nyo po kami. Gusto namin ng pagbabago…. ipagdasal na mapanindigan naming itong plano namin” (Father, pray for us. We want change.. pray that we can be firm in this plan).
By then, the Ampatuans had been building mansions and buying off houses, real estate and the latest SUVs in Davao City. Escorted by heavily-armed men, they would travel in convoys with sirens blaring, or fly in and out of Davao City on business class, with several security personnel in the economy section. The airline companies earned not only from the tickets purchased but for the handling services of the firearms checked in by the escorts.
Alejo said he saw the sincerity of Mangudadatu in the need for reform and transformation in Maguindanao.
“Here is a person who really wanted change within. Here’s a seed of hope, of real authentic change,” Alejo said.
Alejo in the forum repeatedly said “corruption kills” and that there is “no more graphic case than this” than the Ampatuan Massacre.
Addressing Mangudadatu, he said, “Nararamdaman ko tapat ka at alam kong mahirap panindigan yan. Kailangan ng alalay, may nagbabantay, kalabitin para tuloy-tuloy na ang pagbabago. Hindi tayo masamang lahi” (I feel you are sincere and I know it’s difficult to uphold that. You need help, someone should watch and nudge so change becomes continuous. We are not an evil race).
Mangudadatu, who followed Alejo as speaker, acknowledged he needs “tulong at kaagapay” (help and a supportive companion in the journey).
“I’m 100% human being. I’m bound to commit a mistake,” he said.
In another answer during the open forum, he said, “Tao lang ako. Kung may nakikita kayong mali ko, sabihan nyo ako” (I’m just human. If I do something wrong, tell me),” he said.
In his inaugural speech on June 30, Mangudadatu promised “Totoong Pagbabago Para sa Maguindanaon” (Genuine Change for the Maguindanaon) through “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,” he promised.
In Tuesday’s forum, however, Mangudadatu’s pronouncements and answers on transparency and accountability were vague.
He did not answer portions of the questions inquiring into the methods or procedures his administration has employed to ensure transparency and accountability, although he said something about how they gave projects to mayors who gave them receipts to show the funds were used but no project could be shown. “So now we (the provincial government) implement the project, tutukan na lang ng mayor” (the mayor oversees).”
He said he welcomes audit of funds. But when asked during the open forum how frequent auditing is done in his province, he replied, “siguro monthly siguro” (monthly likely). [Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews]