SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/03 July) — Maguindanao’s “mobile capitol” is on the roll again.
New Maguindanao Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu delivered her inaugural address and State of the Province Address at the gymnasium inside the capitol compound here Tuesday morning, marking the return of the seat of power in this town after almost a decade.
Armored tanks and heavily-armed military and police officers were deployed strategically along the highway and inside the provincial capitol compound, which serves as the headquarters of the 601st Infantry Brigade following the infamous 2009 Ampatuan massacre that killed 58 people, including 32 media workers.
Sangki-Mangudadatu, the first elected female governor who touted herself as the Agila ng Maguindanao (Eagle of Maguindanao), pledged to lead Maguindanao to new heights during her inaugural address at the jampacked gymnasium.
“We will work to restore Maganoy to its old glory,” she told the crowd in Filipino.
Maganoy, the old name of Shariff Aguak, used to be a bustling locality in the then undivided Cotabato empire.
During the campaign period, Sangki-Mangudadatu promised to return the provincial seat of power to Shariff Aguak, which, according to her, is the “rightful” capitol site.
“Walang duda ang bayang to ang kinikilala ng batas na syang provincial capital (There is no doubt the law recognizes this town as the provincial capital,” Sangki-Mangudadatu said in a speech that lasted for about an hour.
The late three-term governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. built here the P218-million capitol, the only one in the country with a jacuzzi whirlpool bath at the governor’s wing. The capitol is a few hundred meters away from what used to be his palatial house.
Ampatuan Sr., the alleged mastermind in the Ampatuan massacre, so-called because it happened in Ampatuan town, died while in detention in 2015 due to a lingering illness.
He abandoned the old provincial capitol in Nuling, Sultan Kudarat town months after he became the governor in 2001 following an alleged ambush of his convoy.
His immediate predecessors — Zacaria Candao (1986–1992; 1995–2001) and Norodin Matalam (1992–1995) — held office at the provincial capitol in Sultan Kudarat town.
The successor of Ampatuan Sr., outgoing three-term governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, did not hold office in Shariff Aguak and ruled the province in his hometown Buluan after assuming power in 2010 due to security reasons.
Esmael’s wife and several female family members, who filed the certificate of candidacy for governor on his behalf, were among the victims of the massacre.
Esmael established a “satellite office” in Buluan town after he assumed power and in 2016, started constructing there a P500-million new capitol in a 12-hectare property that President Duterte unveiled only last February.
Sangki-Mangudadatu, whose husband Suharto Mangudadatu is the come-backing governor of neighboring Sultan Kudarat province, said the provincial capitol in Buluan, which was patterned after the US capitol, would be transformed into a hospital.
Suharto, who previously served as governor and congressional representative of Sultan Kudarat province, and Esmael are cousins.
Sangki-Mangudadatu, formerly the mayor of Datu Abdullah Sangki town for two terms, defeated Freddie Mangudadatu, younger brother of Esmael, who won the province’s second congressional district race.
A part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Maguindanao, which is composed of 36 towns, is a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and one of the country’s poorest provinces due to the decades-long Moro rebellion.
The interior of the capitol building appeared dilapidated due to lack of maintenance and needs rehabilitation. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)