Maguindanao prov’l government tries to bring back order in chaotic Talitay town

TALITAY, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 24 June) – On Monday, coordinated efforts by the provincial government, the police and the Army have tried to bring back normalcy to this municipality, which has been wracked by a series of conflicts and violence apparently precipitated by rival political clans in last year’s elections.

The Philippine flag flies once more at the municipal hall of Talitay in Maguindanao on Monday (22 June 2020) after the seat of governance was abandoned more than a year ago with the series of armed conflicts in the area. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

The Maguindanao Provincial Police command, the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion and the provincial government led rites in bringing back the seat of governance in the Poblacion area, site of the municipal hall, which was abandoned for more than a year.

After a long while, the Philippine flag was hoisted up the pole once again, wiggling vigorously, indicating a new hope after restless days of violence.

The provincial government’s aim is to make the municipal government function normally again in its original designated office, to be secured by government forces after armed men stormed the satellite office in Barangay Gadungan a few weeks ago, sowing fear to the people and employees of the local government unit.

“We want to reestablish the municipal government in its original site because the Civil Service Commission and the provincial government do not recognize the satellite office,” said Col. Arnold Santiago, provincial police director. “Technically the employees are considered AWOL [absence without leave]”, he added.

Talitay town has been marred by a cycle of political violence and vendetta from warring clans – between the Sabal and Ameril families – and the recent killings of its town officials.

The Sabals and Amerils were once allies, but that changed in the 2019 elections when they raced against each other, and then violence erupted when the results came out.

Schools were burned, firefights erupted, hundreds of families were displaced. The town administrator and the secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan were killed.

Even the declared winner in the mayoralty race, Abdulwahab Sabal, was assassinated while about to check in in a hotel in Malate, Manila last February 10. He was in Manila to attend a gathering of mayors called by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The late mayor, Vice Mayor Montasir Sabal (Abdulwahab’s younger brother) and former Assemblyman Sedik Ameril were included by the President in his narco-list in 2016, when Abdulwahab was still vice mayor and Montasir was Mayor.

They denied the accusations, but Montasir Sabal and Sedik Ameril are still in hiding.

Vice Mayor Montasir Sabal, by rule of succession, should have taken the post as mayor. But because of his absence, the first councilor, young Moner Sabal, son of Abdulwahab, led the governance of Talitay in the satellite office.

But even then, unrest continued as armed men attacked the satellite office several times. Last May, the armed men dominated and occupied the town hall.

“We pity much the employees. They are ready and willing to serve but the circumstances are making them futile. So the provincial government will establish the symbol of governance here,” said Maguindanao administrator Mohajeran “Odjie” Balayman.

He noted that when the provincial government reviewed documents in the satellite office, several flaws were found, foremost among them was that there was no public hearing nor two-thirds vote of the Sangguniang Bayan members for the town hall’s transfer to its satellite location.

“As mandated by the Muslim Mindanao Act, it says the town hall is located here in the Poblacion,” Balayman stressed.

Maguindanao Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu has worked with the Bangsamoro government in pushing the town to be functional as several projects for the people and government activities were frozen due to armed tensions.

“I had talked with BARMM [Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] officials to establish soon the seat of government in Talitay,” Mangudadatu said.

Meanwhile, newly installed town administrator Kamid Laugan is thankful that they can move to rebuild the town anew.

“After several communication letters, finally they heard us. Now they know we exist,” he said.

Laugan was joined by more than 30 employees who are expected to clean the abandoned and dilapidated municipal hall, where there is no electricity nor water supply yet.

Meanwhile, the provincial government has started to send tables and other office supplies for the town hall to operate.

Col. Santiago has dispatched additional set of police troopers and requested additional forces from the Army to enforce security at the town hall.  (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)