TACURONG CITY (MindaNews/31 July) — It was supposed to be a State of the Province Address (SOPA) but days before the event, Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said that in its stead, a Grand Kanduli (thanksgiving) would be held to celebrate what he claimed were achievements of his 13-month administration and to welcome Ramadan which is expected to begin on August 1.
Conspicuously absent in what was supposed to be a grand celebration last Friday was Vice Governor Ismael Mastura, his running mate in last year’s election.
Addressing the crowd of mostly government employees at the family-owned resort, here, Mangudadatu said, “Lalo pa nating palakasin ang pagkakaisa upang ang paghihirap ng ating bayan ay maiahon” (Let us strengthen our unity so that we can rise from poverty).
Maguindanao was cited in the speech of President Aquino on June 30, at the signing of the law that moved the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as having the worst poverty incidence as of 2009.
The President said all provinces in the ARMM were below the national poverty incidence of 20.9 per cent with Maguindanao posting the worst, at 44.6 per cent that year.
In his speech, Mangudadatu, who assumed the post of governor on June 30, 2010 after the nine-year rule of his former ally, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., did not cite figures on poverty reduction in a province that has been battered by armed conflict and natural hazard-induced disasters such as floods.
He mentioned programs and projects his administration has undertaken, most of them not backed by statistics.
He said they have distributed oil palm and rubber tree seedlings and carabaos. He cited the mobile hospital, a campaign promise his administration delivered on the 100th day. He claimed there are continuing health services, and announced there are “halos dalawang libo” (almost 2,000) beneficiaries who are now studying in the different schools in Maguindanao and neighboring Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat through the Maguindanao Program for Educational Assistance and Community Empowerment or MagPeace.
He said Senator Jinggoy Estrada gave MagPeace a million pesos. Estrada was expected to attend the Kanduli, his name written on welcome streamers.
Mangudadatu also talked about subsidies for volunteer teachers and asatidz, covered courts, repair of roads, providing electricity, housing, training of farmers and provincial employees, but cited no figures.
He said they want to provide concrete solutions to the perennial flooding in the province by setting up the Maguindanao Flood Management and Development Authority, adding he sent his technical personnel to Davao City to discuss ways of addressing the problem and to have their own dredging equipment.
Asked for the composition of the Authority, Mangudadatu told MindaNews, “what we have are the different components of the management and development authority. As to the composition, we shall convene to discuss and agree to participation and distribution of duties and responsibilities.”
In his speech, the governor said he asked his department heads to coordinate with government agencies to train entrepreneurs on how to make water hyacinths useful instead of harmful.
He also announced that the Peace Center Building currently under construction in Buluan, Maguindanao is almost finished. He said this would be called the Raja Buayan-Silongan Peace Center and will serve as “sentro ng adbokasya at pananaliksik para sa Kapayapaan at Tagumpay” (center for advocacy and research for peace and success).
Talks have circulated that the Peace Center, located along the national highway, is going to be the new capitol of the province. He declined to answer MindaNews’ query if, indeed, it would be the new capitol.
In his speech, he said the building costs at least P30 million and was funded by the provincial government.
Mangudadatu is presently holding office in a “satellite office” in his hometown in Buluan.
He also spoke about the accreditation of the Provincial Skills Training Center, the setting up of a LandBank branch in Buluan, the establishment of a One Stop resource Center that will serve as Public Employment and Service Office.
He said he hopes they would instill in their hearts the culture of peace so they can take the straight path and improve their lives.
“Tama na po ang culture of violence. Tama na po ang sinasabing mas mahal pa natin ang baril kaysa asawa natin” (Enough of the culture of violence. Enough of the talks that we love our guns more than our wives), he said, adding they should unite to achieve peace.
The Grand Kanduli was held outside Maguindanao province, at the Genalin Forest Garden Resort in the neighboring city of Tacurong. The resort, owned by Mangudadatu’s family, was named after his wife who was among the 58 killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Fifty-three of the victims, 32 of them from the media, were in a convoy to file the certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor of then Buluan vice mayor Mangudadatu, when stopped along the highway of Ampatuan town by around a hundred armed men led by then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. Five persons in two vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time were also killed.
Andal Jr. was supposed to run for governor of Maguindanao.. The Mangudadatus were allies of the Ampatuan until Mangudadatu opted to run for governor. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)