REJOINDER: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte: The Maranao Pride

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(Lawyer Saidamen B. Pangarungan, a Meranaw appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos in July 2018, wrote this piece in response to claims that the President has no Meranaw roots. Earl Parreno is author of the newly-launched book, ‘Beyond Will & Power,’ a biography of President Duterte. Parreno interviewed “nearly a hundred people,” including Duterte’s siblings, checked archives, traced Duterte’s genealogy, his childhood, high school days, life as a lawyer, a prosecutor, his entry into the political arena, all the way to his winning the Presidency). 

Earl Parreno’s claims questioning President Duterte’s Maranao bloodline appearing in the article “Decoding Duterte: Facts behind Rody’s claims, rise to power” [Inquirer, p.A4, Nov 3, 2019] are unfounded if not conjectural, to say the least.

President Duterte’s pedigree traces back to his great ancestor Datu Samporna, a Maranao nobleman of Momungan (now Balo-i, Lanao del Norte).

Saidamen B. Pangarungan, Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. Photo courtesy of NCMF website

In their book on the genealogy (salsila) of President Duterte,   (A Genealogical Profile of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, SKM Publication, c. 2017), the authors Ben J. Kadil, Ph.D., Prof. Asangan T. Madale and Prof. Helen O. Kadil wrote that at age 21, Datu Samporna went to Iligan and sailed towards “Cagaayahan” (now Cagayan de Oro city), where he settled and raised his families in 1622. He eventually replaced Datu Salangsang, as the new ruler of Cagaayahan. Datu Samporna was offered to marry princesses – daughters of prominent families – and begot generations of famous descendants in Mindanao and the Visayas, namely Neri, Roa, Fernandez, Chavez, Velez, Rivera, Bautista, San Jose, Gaerlan, Rodriguez, Emano, Pelaez, Fernan, Badelles, Cabili, among others.

When the Spaniards arrived in Cagaayahan in the 17th century, the Recollect Fr. Pedro de Santa Barbara officiated the mass and many of the Samporna families became Christians. They were given the family name “Neri”. However, some of Datu Samporna’s descendants decided to move to Boroon, Wato, Tugaya and Ganassi in the province of Lanao and retained their Islamic faith. The Spaniards mispronounced the word Cagaayahan and gradually changed it to Cagayan. With the discovery of rich gold deposits in sitio Munigi and Pigtaw, the name Cagayan de Oro came into existence.

The authors stressed that Eleno Samporna Neri Roa got married to Fortunata Gonzales. They are the parents of Soledad ‘Soleng’ Samporna Neri Roa, a public school teacher and civic leader. Soledad got married to Vicente Duterte, then governor of Davao province, and they were blessed with five children bearing the surname Roa Duterte: Eleanor, Jocelyn, Don, Benjamin and Rodrigo, our President .

Mr. Parreno tried in vain to cast a cloud of doubt on the President’s Maranao ancestry by alleging that the President’s maternal grandfather Eleno had his surname Fernandez changed to Roa when he was adopted by the latter family. This claim can hardly be proven by competent evidence. On the contrary, the Maranao salsila (genealogy) chronicled that Eleno’s mother was a Roa and Eleno chose his mother’s surname because the name Roa was prominent in business and influence in Agusan and Misamis. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the name change is true, the Fernandezes of Cagayan de Oro are also descendants of Datu Samporna. Hence, whether Eleno is a Fernandez or a Roa, the Maranao blood ran in his veins just the same.

But more than the genealogy, the President has shown his love and compassion not only for the Maranaos but for the whole Bangsamoro. In the 22 years that he or his daughter Sara was mayor of Davao City, deputy mayors for the Maranaos, Tausugs, Maguindanaons and other Moro tribes were appointed. The deputies were tasked to attend to the well-being of Davao’s Muslim residents. Mayor Duterte also supported their spiritual needs by maintaining mosques and madrasahs and sending every year at least 20 hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia at his expense. The hajj is the lifetime dream of every Muslim faithful. He regularly celebrates with his constituents the two Muslim holidays of Eidl Fitr and Eidl Adha. On these holidays, he gives one sack of rice and groceries to all Muslim households in Davao. These generosities have never been equaled or replicated even by some 100 Muslim mayors in the country.

When he ran for the presidency in 2016, I talked to the mayor at his house on a Sunday for a couple of hours on a variety of subjects including his plan to address the historical injustices to the Bangsamoro. I then organized the National Maranao Union for Duterte (NMUD) in all Maranao communities in the Philippines and campaigned for him. I appealed to all Maranaos through the two local TV and radio stations in Marawi to support Mayor Duterte, the Maranao presidential bet, as he is our only chance to achieve peace in the Bangsamoro homeland. The TV and radio slots ran ten times daily for a period of two months before the May 2016 elections. Rody Duterte garnered an unprecedented, landslide 84% of the vote in the two Lanao provinces and Marawi city notwithstanding that almost all of the 67 mayors and two governors of these areas campaigned actively for the Liberal Party bet Mar Roxas.

True to his campaign promise, his first order of the day as president was to expedite the enactment into law of the Bangsamoro Organic Law which created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This ended decades of fratricidal war with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) that claimed the lives of some 120,000 Filipinos and displaced millions of people. To give the Muslims wider participation in government, he appointed four Muslims into his cabinet, a first in Philippine history. They were Sec. Guiling Mamondiong in TESDA, Sec. Abulkhayr Alonto in the Mindanao Development Authority (MINDA), Sec. Abdullah Mamao, OFW Affairs Adviser, and me as Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). His big electoral win in the Moro provinces and cities as well as his soaring approval ratings in surveys showed how much the Bangsamoro love the President to this day.

Mr. Parreno in his (book) left to his readers to decide if the President has the Maranao bloodline. My answer: President Duterte has the Maranao descent literally and he has shown his big heart for the Maranaos and Bangsamoros as well. This is the reason why he is the most loved Philippine president to us Muslim Filipinos.

[Lawyer Saidamen B. Pangarungan is Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). He was a former Governor of Lanao del Sur 1986, 1988 – 1992, Undersecretary of DILG 1986 -1987, and member, Siguion Reyna, Montecillo & Ongsiako law offices, Makati City, 1977-1984]

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