COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/16 May) – “Kung saan safe ang mamumuno” (where the leaders are safe).
This was Maguindanao governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s response when asked Monday night at his proclamation as reelected governor, where he and Vice Governor-elect Lester Sinsuat would hold office.
It was the same question asked of Mangudadatu and then Vice Governor-elect Ismael “Dustin” Mastura when he was proclaimed governor on May 14, 2010.
The P218-million provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak town, supposedly the seat of the provincial government, was built by his predecessor, Andal Ampatuan, Sr. and May 2010 was only six months from the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, including his wife, sisters, relatives and 32 media workers. The primary suspects in the massacre were the Ampatuans.
Citing security reasons, Ampatuan abandoned the capitol in Sultan Kudarat a few months after he won the election in 2001 against then reelectionist Zacaria Candao, and moved over to Shariff Aguak, his hometown, after an alleged ambush on his convoy.
Citing security concerns, Governor-elect Mangudadatu and Vice Governor-elect Mastura, said they would hold office temporarily in their respective hometowns, pending the rehabilitation of the old Capitol in Simuay – Mangudadatu in a building supposedly intended for a training center, fronting the municipal hall compound in Buluan, and Mastura in the ABC (Association of Barangay Captains) building in his hometown in Sultan Kudarat town.
Pending rehabilitation of the Sultan Kudarat capitol, Mangudadatu converted a building intended for a training center in Buluan as his “satellite office” but eventually constructed a new building along the highway which he called “Rajah Buayan Silongan Peace Center Satellite Office Province of Maguindnao.” He told MindaNews Monday night that he donated that land on where the building stands.
Mastura, presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan or Provincial Board, sought refuge in the compound of the town hall of Sultan Kudarat, where his uncle Tucao Mastura, Mangudadadtu’s lone opponent in the 2013 gubernatorial race, for temporary quarters.
The Board initially used the ABC building in the Sultan Kudarat municipal compound and later moved to the old capitol compound in Simuay, along the Cotabato-Davao national highway, after appropriating P2 million for the rehabilitation of the former General Services Office into what is now the Sangguniang Panlalawigan building.
Simuay is 120 kilometers or 140 kilometers from Buluan, depending on where one passes. The longer route passes through Shariff Aguak, the shorter via Tulunan-Mlang highway.
Except for the building now occupied by the Sanggunian, no action was taken on the supposed rehabilitation of the old capitol site.
Mastura and Mangudadatu never held office in the same building in their three-year term. The two also had an early falling out and were last seen in a public gathering on their 100th day in office on October 10, 2010, in Mangudadatu’s hometown in Buluan.
On Monday night, Mangudadatu, the target of a roadside bomb explosion on August 15, 2011 as his convoy was passing the Alunan highway in Tacurong City for his birthday celebration at the family resort, said his office in Buluan is just a “satellite office” but said “pwede rin akong mag-opisina sa Shariff Aguak” (I can also hold office in Shariff Aguak).
“Actually nag-start na kami ng repair,” (we’ve started repairing it), he said.
Three years earlier, Mangudadatu said he was thinking of converting the Shariff Aguak capitol into a museum or for use of government agencies “such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippine National Police headquarters, Department of Education.”
The huge Capitol compound in Shariff Aguak which has a main building, a gymnasium and several stand-alone one-floor buildings, is presently occupied by the Philippine Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan building in Sultan Kudarat may be vacated on June 30 as the incoming eight-member Sanggunian, dominated by the Liberal Party members at 7 to 1, may not likely want to hold office in the bailiwick of the Masturas.
Vice Governor-elect Datu Lester Sinsuat, who is based in Datu Odin Sinsuat town, told reporters he still has to meet with his board members and decide on where they would hold office. He said they would consult with the governor as well.
He told MindaNews they have up to June 30 to decide on where the Provincial Board would hold office.
The 2010-2013 Provincial Board passed on May 3, 2011 Resolution 078, establishing Simuay as the official site of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. On April 3, 2012, the Board passed Resolution 132 reiterating Sultan Kudarat town as the official seat of Maguindanao.
The old capitol site in Sultan Kudarat is 48 kilometers away from Datu Odin Sinsuat; Datu Odin Sinsuat is 25 kilometers away from the Shariff Aguak capitol and Shariff Aguak is 60 kilometers away from Mangudadatu’s hometown and “satellite office.”
Mangudadatu asserts the official seat of Maguindanao is in Shariff Aguak, on the land behind the Provincial Police Office, where the Capitol used to stand. He said this building was burned but when Ampatuan opted to build a new Capitol, he built it on land believed to be owned by him.
Mangudadatu told MindaNews he is considering setting up or renting “small buildings” as “satellite offices.”
“Mas lalong gaganda ang Maguindanao. Pwede ka mag-upisina sa Parang, sa Upi, maliliit lang (na building) kung may pa-rentahan sila sa amin, re-rentahan namin maliliit lang na buildings” (Maguindanao will be much better. You can hold office in Parang, in Upi, just small buildings. Or if they can rent to us, we will rent).
He said it would be easier for them to attend to problems if they have “satellite offices” in key areas. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)