Appointed Maguindanao del Norte Gov reveals he wasn’t BARMM’s bet, but Malacañang’s

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 11 April)— Abdulraof Macacua, known for his nom de guerre “Sammy Gambar” during his days as leader and combatant of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has revealed he was not the first choice of the leadership of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to lead the newly created province of Maguindanao del Norte, but of Malacañang.

Maguindanao del Norte OIC Gov. Abdulraof Macacua in his temporary office in Cotabato City on Tuesday (11 April 2023). MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

In his speech during the kanduli (thanksgiving) just after an Iftar dinner in his hometown of Mother Kabuntalan municipality in Maguindanao del Norte on Sunday, Macacua said that the personalities first endorsed by the BARMM government was former Parang Mayor Ibrahim Ibay as governor and incumbent Datu Blah Sinsuat Mayor Marcial Sinsuat as his vice governor.

He said in his speech aired live over Facebook that everything started last year during separate meetings called by senior Cabinet officials in Malacañang and by top security officials in Davao City attended by majority of the mayors from Maguindanao del Norte wherein they were asked who they would prefer to lead Maguindanao del Norte.

“It was that time when Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo Jr. floated the idea of my name to lead the new province,” Macacua narrated, admitting he was caught off-guard.

He said the selection process has been a long and tedious journey, and Malacañang was later pressured to appoint provincial leaders amid the confusion and calls among local officials.

At that time, Vice Governor Bai Ainee Sinsuat (of the then undivided Maguindanao province) assumed as governor of Maguindanao del Norte after invoking Republic Act 11550, the law that split Maguindanao province.

But the proposal for the tandem of former Mayor Ibrahim Ibay and Mayor Marcial Sinsuat had not progressed and had not gained the nod of Malacañang, Macacua said after the Iftar dinner attended by BARMM leaders, officials of the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front, mayors of Maguindanao del Norte and even Maguindanao del Sur, civil society organizations, religious leaders, indigenous peoples, academe, traditional leaders, women, youth, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and ordinary folks from across the region who joined him in his village of Barangay Gambar in Kabuntalan.

Macacua said that before he fully decided to accept the offer, he asked assurance from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim that “no law shall be violated” as far as his appointment is concerned, noting that some quarters are questioning his appointment.

The camp of Maguindanao del Sur OIC Governor Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu has questioned the appointment of Macacua, noting that RA 11550 mentions that the vice governor of the then undivided Maguindanao province should take over as governor of Maguindanao del Norte. [See April 10 story.]

Macacua also asked the assurance of the President and Ebrahim that they will support him in the fast implementation of projects, which he said are usually hindered by audit issue delays.

Macacua vowed that under his watch, he will fast track the transformation of the new province as the “best performing province of BARMM.”

He also hinted at the “too much politicking attitude” among politicians instead of just focusing on improving services for the constituents.

Macacua vowed to push for transparency, accountability, coordination, and cooperation.

He said this will happen only if officials and workers will adhere to moral governance guided by the principle of their struggle as former combatants.

Macacua said that during his visit to Malacañang to talk about his prospects to become the OIC governor, President Marcos Jr. sought his help in the campaign against illegal drugs and to stabilize the peace and order situation in the area.

Macacua also vowed to work for unity and fast developments.

Ebrahim, who has been Macacua’s comrade in the MILF and a close associate in the BARMM, said he has mixed feelings about Macacua’s appointment.

“I’m a bit happy and sad. Sad because he will leave us in running the BARMM government,” Ebrahim said, noting that Macacua was a great asset and was his point person as BARMM’s senior minister.

But Ebrahim said he is also happy that with Macacua leading Maguindanao del Norte, they can now showcase what will happen if the regional government and the provincial government would coordinate in implementing projects.

Ebrahim admitted that before, BARMM had no direct hand over nor coordination with local government units (LGUs) within BARMM. Working with the LGUs, he said, was realized only when they allied with candidates under the MILF-led United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) in the 2022 elections.

He cited their coordination with Cotabato City Mayor Mohammad Ali “Bruce” D. Matabalao, who ran under UBJP.

“Maguindanao del Norte is in good hands now. Finally I have decided to sacrifice and let him [Macacua] go for the bigger cause,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim also thanked President Marcos for his trust and confidence on Macacua.

For lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, who heads the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government of the BARMM (MILG-BARMM), Macacua’s appointment as governor was part of the “perfect convergence and unity,” from the national government to the regional government, all the way to the province. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)