Maguindanao town has 2 separate mayors

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 16 May)— The municipality of Pandag in Maguindanao del Sur has two claimant mayors now as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) central office and the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government in the Bangsamoro region (MILG-BARMM) have their own separate recognized town mayors.

Municipality of Pandag, Maguindanao del Sur. Map courtesy of Google

The rival camps of Khadafeh “Toy” Mangudadatu and Mohajeran “Odjie” Balayman have been locked in legal battle since the proclamation day after the May 2022 elections.

Mangudadatu was proclaimed winner by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) but the camp of Balayman protested, which later made him convince a court to favor him during the recount.

But both sides have filed appeals and counter appeals.

On Monday, Balayman took his oath of office as mayor of Pandag before Judge Angelito Razalan of the Municipal Trial Court in Cotabato City.

He claimed that on May 12, the Comelec has released its final judgment in his favor. “They [Mangudadatu’s camp] were defaulted because of the failure of their legal counsel,” Balayman said in his media briefing after taking his oath.

It was his second time to take oath. His first was before Maguindanao del Sur Governor Bai Mariam Sangkit-Mangudadatu, who is his ally under the Maguindanao Alliance, on October 18, 2022.

An injunction order came two days after his first oath, prohibiting him to hold office and instead recognizing his rival, Khadafeh Mangudadatu, as elected mayor.

Mangudadatu’s legal counsel, lawyer Israelito Torreon, said that it was never stated in the Comelec en banc resolution that Balayman was declared and recognized as winner.

“The problem is, he only attached certificate of finality and entry of judgment from the en banc resolution but where in the resolution that stated that he will take oath as Mayor of Pandag? If he can pinpoint in the resolution, then he is the mayor,” Torreon said.

Torreon emphasized that, first, Comelec en banc acted and decided on Balayman’s election protest past the 10-day limitation after Mangudadatu was proclaimed winner by the board of canvassers.

Second, he said that it was an “error of judgment” for the Regional Trial Court for declaring Mangudadatu “in default” in the election protest despite a certification from the Philippine Post Office that they submitted their response on time, aside from replying emails.

It was also on Monday that Balayman posted on his Facebook account the recognition he obtained from the DILG signed by Undersecretary Margarita Gutierrez that he is the duly recognized mayor.

Balayman, however, was not able to secure the same document from the MILG-BARMM during his first attempt to take over the municipal hall after taking his oath of office before the governor.

But he pointed out that the DILG is higher than the MILG-BARMM.

The MILG-BARMM Minister, lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, confirmed that on May 12, his office received a request letter from the camp of Balayman with the attached certificate of finality.

But Sinarimbo said there was no final executory decision from Comelec en banc among the attached documents, the reason his office could not issue the certification.

He also pointed out that something was wrong on the certification issued by Undersecretary Gutierrez. “This is not in accordance with autonomy,” Sinarimbo expressed, saying the regional office was not even given a copy of it.

He stressed that that the DILG central office has no jurisdiction over the local government units of the BARMM since the function has been devolved to the autonomous government, the reason the DILG does not have regional offices in BARMM areas.

Sinarimbo said he wrote a letter to Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. but has not received a reply yet.

“As you may note, supervision over LGUs in the BARMM has been a power delegated both to the former ARMM and the current BARMM. More so, in the case of BARMM, the same is not just contained in the Organic Law but also in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” he said in his letter to the DILG chief.

“Any action therefore that takes back the powers granted to the BARMM is viewed with serious concern by the BARMM Government because it does not only violate the law but the peace agreement as well signed between the Government and the MILF,” his letter added.

Sinarimbo hoped that this can be rectified immediately if the information they received is true.

Pandag town was in the limelight and event went viral on social media on November 24, 2022 after a commotion inside the municipal hall involving Maguindanao del Sur Governor Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and the wife of Khadafeh, Vice Mayor Bai Zihan Mangudadatu, and their supporters when they crossed path in the vice mayor’s office.

Khadafeh Mangudadatu is occupying the new town hall building funded by MILG-BARMM while Balayman used the old municipal building, less than 500 meters away.

Weeks before and after May 2022 elections, a spate of killings erupted in the municipality, wherein a village chair, a Comelec official, and several civilians were killed.

Pandag municipality has a land area of 85.31 square kilometers. It has eight barangays with around 30,000 residents. Aside from coconut, banana, corn, and palm oil agricultural bounties, the town has been said to have vast natural gas deposits. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)