Abandoned Maguindanao capitol converted to COVID-19 isolation center

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 28 July) – Anticipating the arrival of 7,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs), the Maguindanao provincial government has decided to convert the unused old capitol building here into a COVID-19 Ligtas Center.

The former Maguindanao provincial capitol building in the municipality of Shariff Aguak, built during the Ampatuan administration, has now been converted into a COVID-19 Ligtas Center for the locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs). Photo taken Monday (27 July 2020). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

The three-story building had been abandoned or converted as warehouse after the infamous Maguindanao massacre that led to the fall of the late Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

On Monday, Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and Dr. Elizabeth Samama, provincial health chief, led the inauguration of the 200-bed capacity facility as part of the provincial government’s preparation for the arrival of LSIs and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).

Built with an estimated cost of P218 million more than a decade ago by the Ampatuan administration, the building is the third isolation facility in Maguindanao, according to Gov. Mangudadatu.

The first is at the compound of Maguindanao Provincial Hospital in Datu Hoffer town and the second is the utilization of unused Maguindanao jail for COVID-19-positive patients in Shariff Aguak town.

Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu checks out facilities at the former Maguindanao provincial capitol building in the municipality of Shariff Aguak on Monday (27 July 2020). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

The governor said that once additional work is completed on the abandoned capitol building, its full bed capacity will be 400 because of its large area.

Mangudadatu explained that the facility has separate rooms for men and women but there are also rooms for family or for husband and wife.

The isolation center was designed like a hotel where there is playground for children and TV viewing area to fight boredom among the LSIs and ROFs.

“Due to the demand of LSIs and ROFs expected to come back home from Metro Manila, we managed to finish this in five days to accommodate them,” Mangudadatu said.

Maguindanao has 38 COVID-19 positive cases, 11 of them remain in the isolation center in Shariff Aguak.

Samama, who also heads the Maguindanao Provincial Hospital, said no one has died among the COVID-19 patients.

“This is indeed a very welcome act making sure that the province can give the much needed care due to our LSIs and ROFs where in this facility then can undergo the quarantine requirements based on [Department of Health] standard protocols,” she said.

In the history of Maguindanao province, three provincial capitol buildings were built by previous elected governors.

The first is in Barangay Nuling, Sultan Kudarat municipality used by Governors Zacaria Candao and Norodin Matalam from 1986 to 1995, which is also used now as COVID-19 facility by the Bangsamoro Region after it was long abandoned since the transfers of provincial seats.

The second is in Shariff Aguak (Old Maganoy) built by the Ampatuans in early 2000 and the third is in Buluan, built by former Maguindanao Governor Esamel Mangudadatu and finished last year.

Meanwhile, the Maguindanao governor quipped other leaders for giving cold treatment to their returning LSIs and ROFs. She said that some LSIs and ROFs coming from other provinces, which she did not name, are now under their care.

She challenged other fellow government officials to take full responsibility of attending to the needs of LSIs and ROFs.

“During election campaign, we begged them to vote for us. Now that they need our help, we turn our backs on them,” she said, addressing some local leaders who refused to allow the return of LSIs.

Health workers at the former Maguindanao provincial capitol building in the municipality of Shariff Aguak in full battle gear, photographed on Monday (27 July 2020), are now ready to accept locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

Addressing her constituents, Mangudadatu urged everyone to maintain cleanliness not only to fight the spread of COVID-19 but also to help in the campaign against dengue, polio and other communicable diseases that can be avoided by proper hygiene and home cleaning practices.

“Some, despite our impoverished situation, can still buy guns and jewelry collections. But why not use the money to buy stick brooms or toilet bowls and make a habit to clean our surroundings?” she asked. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)