By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY: President Rodrigo Duterte has brokered an electoral covenant among rival political camps in the Bangsamoro region, prescribing for peaceful, free and honest voting next year particularly in Maguindanao and this city amid perceived pre-election tension.
The covenant also prods the police and military establishments to strictly observe neutrality at all times here and in the province, according to Philippine Muslim Today (PMT) news sources.
In an interview by the PMT over the phone Wednesday morning, Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said he personally asked the President to broker the covenant for presentation to and signature by candidates for provincial, Congressional and mayoral positions in the province and here during a Palace meeting on Tuesday.
Apart from Rep. Mangudadatu, the Palace meeting was attended by top Bangsamoro government officials led by Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, Maguindanao Gov. Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and husband-Gov. Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu of Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi alongside city, provincial, and Congressional slates.
Bangsamoro Senior Minister Abdulraof Macacua, in his Facebook post Wednesday morning, said the “covenant for honest, peaceful and orderly election will be soon signed.” He was present at the meeting and was still in Manila waiting for the covenant signing as of press time Wednesday night.
The United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), led by Ebrahim and Macacua as chairman and secretary general, respectively, has fielded Rep. Mangudadatu as its standard bearer in Maguindanao and former councilor Bruce Matabalao for the city mayoralty race.
Ebrahim and Macacua had earlier said they were compelled to field UBJP full slate-candidates in the province and city because of the dissent of Gov. Sangki-Mangudadatu and Mayor Sayadi against the proposal for extension in the Bangsamoro government’s transitional period to 2025 via the deferment of the 2022 regional election.
The Senate and the House of Representatives have endorsed the proposal through separate bills they legislated and ratified last month. The UBJP leadership said it fielded Rep. Mangudadatu as gubernatorial bet in reciprocation to his all-out support in the legislative process as principal author of the House version.
‘Already a law’
Thousands of supporters expressed jubilation through social media channels since Tuesday night over information from attendees of the Palace meeting that the President has already signed the bill into law.
Senior Minister Macacua and Rep. Mangudadatu clarified later that the President actually announced at the meeting that the proposed “BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) extension is already a law.”
Macacua said the Presidential remark carried two meanings: The bill was signed before the Tuesday night meeting; and it would be signed in four days or else it would lapse into law by October 31.
But in another phone interview Wednesday night, Rep. Mangudadatu said the President assured him of his signing of the bill without lapsing into law.
End of ‘veto’ lobby
Macacua said their audience with the Presidential was very essential because it certainly ended their apprehension that the bill would be vetoed as desired by a minority opposing quarters among Bangsamoro political leaders.
He said the unprecedented Presidential brokering of electoral covenant among rival political camps and the certainty of the extension of the BTA lifespan signified double significance to the fledgling Bangsamoro governance.
“These two (Palace imprimaturs) are all beneficial to the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino people,” Macacua said.
The pre-election tension in this city and Maguindanao, according to local political and security analysts, has stemmed largely from the involvement of the regional autonomous government leadership in the city and provincial politics.
The camps of Mayor Sayadi and Gov. Sangki-Mangudadatu have lamented that while the Bangsamoro leadership has painstakingly sought deferment in the 2022 regional parliament poll, it intervened in the city and provincial intramurals by putting up rival candidates with massive support.
But Macacua argued that the UBJP as a political party of Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders ruling nowadays the Bangsamoro region would want to ensure that the upcoming local and national polls will produce officials supporting or cooperating with the autonomous government.
He assured that the regional bureaucracy’s fiscal resources will not be spent for the campaign of UBJP candidates in Maguindanao and here.
“We (in the regional bureaucracy) will not spend a single cent for our candidate. He has his own resources,” Macacua said, referring to Rep. Mangudadatu, who was governor of Maguindanao from 2010 to 2019.
Plea for sober politics
On Sunday, Oct. 24, Rep. Mangudadatu pleaded to political supporters not to sow hatred between him and Gov. Mariam and her husband Gov. Teng Mangudadatu of Sultan Kudarat, pointing out that they are relatives not deserving of any third party-instigated harmful rivalry.
“Please do not feed us exaggerate information that will provoke our camps,” the lawmaker urged fanatic supporters in Manguindanaon vernacular at the online live Tapatan forum of the Bangsamoro Press Corps (BPC).
He pointed out that after the May 9, 2022 election being a momentary segment of democracy, he will reach out to the lady governor and her husband to forge reconciliation. He is second cousin to the Sultan Kudarat governor.
The lawmaker said he has been ignoring exaggerated supporters’ feedbacks, and his relative-rivals should likewise shun evil-whispers.
On Monday, PNP chief General Guillermo Eleazar ordered a thorough investigation into the blast at around 6:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 23) along the highway of Guindulongan, Maguindanao while the lawmaker’s 20-vehicle convoy was passing through.
Initial reports from Col. Jibin Bongcayao, provincial police director, said motorcycle-riding men backed by a four-wheel car lobbed an improvised grenade in front of a paramilitary checkpoint along the highway purportedly to avenge the death on Oct. 16 of one “Kumander S.S.” of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
But like the PNP chief’s theory, Col. Bongcayao and military investigators did not discount the possibility that the lawmaker’s convoy was a target.
Rep. Mangudadatu said he would not take incident lightly because a strong bomb ripped through his convoy on Aug. 16, 2011 in Tacurong City, leaving then Board Member Russman Sinsuat Sr. killed and his namesake son maimed. The Sinsuats’ car was tailing the lead vehicle of Mangudadatu, then a governor.
Last Oct. 23, Datu Ali Mamison Camino, a former elected vice mayor of Datu Abdullah Sangki town and supporter of Rep. Mangudadatu, was ambushed in his town by five armed men. He and an escort were wounded while another companion was killed. He claimed the ambush did not draw police attention.
In the face of the escalating gubernatorial race, Rep. Mangudadatu said the provincial police forces have allegedly become biased for the lady governor’s camp, citing instances of his denied requests for police escorts in risky areas.
On Oct. 8, he said, he accompanied his mayoral candidate in Datu Unsay town to file candidacy. While addressing a crowd, a certain “Kagui” – believed to be among wanted in the infamous 2009 “Maguindanao massacre” – shouted at him while trying to approach, but close-in escorts secured the lawmaker and later found the person tucking a gun.
Before his trip to Datu Unsay town, the lawmaker said he and Col. Bongcayao had agreed on the provision of police escorts. But no police team came even as Col. Congcayao’s phone was unattended, the lawmaker said.
In a separate phone interview, the police colonel said he had dispatched a team, which failed to meet the lawmaker’s group. He also denied being “biased” for the lady governor, whom he described as constant “team partner” in the provincial peace and order council.
Bongcayao said he the local police could not investigate the ambush of former Vice Mayor Camino because he has been hiding from standing arrest warrant for a 2004 murder case. Neither the ambush victims’ relatives would appear to post a blotter or complaint, he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mangudadatu said the President-brokered election covenant, once signed, should make a difference in the stance of the provincial police.
The covenant would also mandate military neutrality in Maguindanao politics. But he said the military forces in the province have so far been fair, citing his access to soldier-escorts in risk field sorties in the absence of a police team.
(Philippine Muslim Today)