COMMENT: AHA! … Really? … Not New

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 September) — Two September 11 news reports in the Philippine Star, one on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the other about politics in Maguindanao, show how old stuff is rehashed to look new. New actors and producers don’t make an old drama new despite new sensation added to keep the readers entertained.

 ARMM Most Haunted

One report, “ARMM is ‘most haunted’ Philippine region”, quotes Sen. Franklin Drilon revealing the revelations of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman at the hearing of the P13.99B ARMM 2013 proposed budget by the Senate Finance Committee which Drilon chairs. The irregularities and anomalies, Drilon said, had been discovered by Hataman since taking over the regional government in December 2011.

Drilon said: “In ARMM, there are a lot of ghosts: ghost employees, ghost teachers, ghost students, ghost internally displaced persons, ghost voters, ghost contractors, ghost gasoline stations, and many more.  All of these contributed to the corruptions in the past which continue to haunt people in the ARMM.”

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III practically mentioned the same ghosts in his State of the Nation Address last July 23, also as reported by Hataman to him. Drilon did not mention concrete figures; the President did and he openly commended Hataman as indeed a certified ghost buster”.

The President said: “Before our reforms in the ARMM began, what we had were ghost students walking to ghost schools on ghost roads, to learn from ghost teachers. … Four schools found with ghost students; we are also investigating the teachers whose names do not appear in the list of the Professional Regulation Commission, as well as the government workers not listed in the plantilla.”

Actions Done

Drilon did not mention what had been done about the ghosts. The President did. He said: Fifty-five ghost entries have been taken off the payroll. The previous scheme of regraveling roads again and again just to earn money has been outlawed. To avoid abuse, we have ended cash advances for agencies. Now, the souls of the ghosts in voters’ lists can rest in peace.”

The President also mentioned reforms: “What we have replaced these phantoms with: real housing, bridges, and learning centers for Badjaos in Basilan; community-based hatcheries, nets, materials to grow seaweeds, and seedlings that have benefited 2,588 fishermen; certified seeds, gabi seedlings, cassava, rubber, and trees that are bearing fruit for 145,121 farmers.”

How truthful, serious and sincere are the President, Drilon and Hataman about the “ghosts” in ARMM?

Just Wondering

Drilon credits Hataman for discovering the “ghosts”. Really? They had been known to be in ARMM long before his appointment as OIC governor.  That Manila had not done anything did not make Hataman the “discoverer”.

The President said “four schools were found with ghost students” and 55 “ghost entries taken off the payroll”. There are thousands of public schools in the ARMM. Can “ghost students” in four schools and 55 ghost employees make the ARMM the most haunted region?

Failure to substantiate generalization is insincerity and lack of seriousness that can impeach truthfulness. Will Mr. Drilon and the President ask Mr. Hataman for names and concrete numbers for publication in national and local media? Provide the people the means to judge; don’t just hype them.

What has really been done and is being done? The economic projects for the farmers of Basilan are not “ghost”-related. Neither are those proposed projects for infrastructure and services to be funded with the P8.59B the national government has granted the ARMM. Those projects are in line with the reforms mandated in R.A. 10153.

To purge the ARMM of “ghosts”, hale the ghost-masters to court. That’s a must, no less. Until that is done, there is no ghost-busting; mere report of the “discovery” is not. Name them. Let the public know the full extent of the scandal in terms of concrete facts and figures. Without these, the reported “discovery” is nothing but another “ghost”.

The unremitted GSIS premium is reported at P1.6B for the period 2001 to 2010 – the Arroyo period, obviously to show how corrupt the Gloria government was. The figure should be more. This GSIS scandal was reported during the incumbencies of all ARMM governors starting with that of Zacaria A. Candao. By legislative or presidential fiat this must be remedied to allow the ARMM employees and teachers to avail of their benefits.

Don’t get us wrong. We like to see the “ghost” scandal stopped. We and other media people in Cotabato City in the 1990’s reported the early “ghosts” and the “vows” of ARMM governors at the time to bust them. The “ghosts” have outlived the governors. Now, Hataman has reported having “discovered” the present generation of “ghosts”; and the President and Senator Drilon have echoed Hataman.

What’s really new? Drilon wants the Senate to investigate the scandal. Is this new? Looking at the pathetic ends of endless congressional investigations, will a Senate investigation expel the “ghosts” from the ARMM?

Mayors Join LP

The other report, “Majority of Maguindanao mayors join LP”, is an old tale retold – not just “twice-told”, borrowing from tale master Nathaniel Hawthorne, but “many-times-told”. And it recalls a Maguindanao political comedy – the rigodon of capitols.

As reported, 26 of Maguindanao’s 36 mayors severed allegiance from their old parties to affiliate with the Liberal Party. Top LP member Ramon Magsaysay Jr., a former senator and one of the LP senatorial candidates for the 2013 elections, administered the oaths of the mayors at the Buluan office of Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who is now the LP head in Maguindanao.

This finalizes the break of Mangudadatu from his 2010 political ally, Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura, whose uncle Sultan Kudarat Mayor Tocao Mastura, as reported, will contest in 2013 the reelection bid of Mangudadatu. These political maneuverings surprise nobody. Mayor Mastura was LP provincial chairman in the 2010 elections.

In the Aftermath

Only change of party affiliation and alliance is permanent in Maguindanao politics – of course following the trend of nationwide shifts of politicians to the ruling party or the dominant opposition. Here’s what could be in the aftermath of the LP coup and shift of provincial party leadership to Mangudadatu: realignments for political survival.

As reported, Magsaysay declared Magudadatu and Datu Odin Mayor Lester Sinsuat as the LP governor-vice governor team for 2013. With the Mangudadatu-Sinsuat alliance, this will inevitably severe the Ampatuan-Sinsuat alliance. Can this lead to the Mastura-Ampatuan alliance?

As also reported, Vice President Jejomar Binay is courting the Masturas to join the PDP-Laban and, consequently, the Binay-Estrada United National Alliance or UNA, an emerging strong opposition coalition. Will this not discourage the Mastura-Ampatuan alliance?

Comedy of Capitols

That Magudadatu holds office in Buluan is the latest serial of the comedy of capitols in Maguindanao. The series started with the creation of South Cotabato on June 18, 1966. Until that time Cotabato was the Empire Province with Cotabato town, later a city, as the capital. Upon the creation of South Cotabato, the remaining part of the Empire known as the “Mother Province” had Pagalungan – the Matalam domain – as its capital. Datu Udtog Matalam was then governor.

For some reasons, in the latter part of the incumbency of Gov. Simeon A. Datumanong, the capitol was returned to Cotabato City. Gov. Carlos B. Cajelo on winning the 1971 election retained the capitol in Cotabato City until the partition of the “Mother Province” into three – Cotabato (North), Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat – in 1973.

According to the decree that created Maguindanao Province, the provincial capital is Maganoy, later renamed Sharif Aguak – the Ampatuan domain. This must have been the choice of Datu Simeon A. Datumanong, last Muslim governor of Cotabato, an Ampatuan, and among President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ point men during the martial law regime. Appointed first governor of Maguindanao, he built the capitol building on a lot he donated in Sharif Aguak, about three kilometers from the highway.

Datumanong held the post from November 22, 1973 – in concurrence with his being commissioner of the Office of Regional Commission XII from July 4, 1975 — to June 26, 1976 when Zacaria A. Candao was appointed governor. Two other governors followed Candao; during their time, the provincial offices went back and forth from Maganoy to Cotabato City.

After the fall of Marcos, Candao became OIC governor; he started developing the capitol site at Simuay Crossing in Sultan Kudarat. This was the de facto capital until a few months after the election of Andal Ampatuan as governor in 2001. He had his entourage ambushed near Quirino Bridge adjoining Cotabato City and Sultan Kudarat to justify the return of the capital to Sharif Aguak where he built a grand capitol building.

After the 2010 election, Mangudadatu and Mastura would not risk holding offices in Sharif Aguak. Mangudadatu set up the governor’s office at his hometown in Buluan; Mastura, in Sultan Kudarat until the renovation of the legislative building at the Simuay Crossing.

Sharif Aguak is the capital of Maguindanao; there is a grand capitol building there. There is an alternative capitol site in Sultan Kudarat; Vice Governor Mastura and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board) hold offices and their sessions there. Buluan is the de facto capital where Governor Mangudadatu holds office.

The comedy of capitols is a testimony to how Maguindanao political leaders mix politics and their maratabat. We see no end to this comedy and the joke then: Have a capitol on wheels. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at