Mangudadatu: Against all odds
MAGUINDANAO - As we were about to complete the set-up of lights and camera under the decades-old palm trees of the Genalyn resort in Tacurong City, the metal gate behind me squeaked, swung open and a big black Chevrolet SUV arrived.
“Good morning, kanina pa kayo?” said Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu with a big smile, as he alighted from his car. I can't imagine someone like him can even manage to smile after a trip, even how short it may be; it's a feat for someone who has dodged several attempts on his life.
The first time he sought to become the governor of Maguindanao, 57 people were brutally murdered after their convoy was stopped in Masalay, Ampatuan town here in Maguindanao.
That was November 23, 2009, when his wife Genalyn (from whom the resort is named), accompanied by his sisters, friends, supporters and journalists, filed his Certificate of Candidacy in the town of Shariff Aguak and were brutally murdered. Members of the family of former Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and other supporters were indicted for the multiple murder. They are now detained and facing trial in Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila.
Then, on February 12, 2010, while Mangudadatu was with his children shopping at a mall in Davao City, another attempt was made on his life. Fortunately, then Vice-Mayor Mangudadatu's uniformed police escorts were quick enough to pounce on the suspect and grapple with the gun, leading to the death of the supposed gunman.
Months later, on August 15, 2010, the newly-elected governor of Maguindanao got a birthday blast. While his convoy was en route from their town in Buluan to Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat province, a roadside bomb attached to a car exploded. The explosion ripped thru cars that were part of the governor’s convoy, killing one and wounding seven others. Mangudadatu survived.
Last November 23, 2012, while the governor was in a convoy for the commemoration of the massacre in Ampatuan town, a parked and unattended motorcycle on a roadside in the rotonda of Isulan town of Isulan Kudarat suddenly emitted smoke. Bystanders checked the vehicle, and when no one approached to claim the motorcycle, they called authorities.
It turned out that the smoke came from a dud IED (Improvised Explosive Device) made of unexploded military grade 80-mm and 61-mm ordnance. Police authorities suspected it may have been intended for the governor’s convoy.
|Philippine soldiers guard the provincial capitol of Maguindanao during the May 11, 2010 elections. Photo by Jay Directo, AFP
Maguindanao after the Ampatuans
Mangudadatu's smile and gestures do not show that he's mindful of his perils.
As he fixed the lapel mic on his shirt before our interview, he was more eager to tell me the story of how his province--not him--has been able to move forward since he assumed leadership of the province.
“Dun sa more than 2 years na pamamalagi ko dito as governor ng Maguindanao ay halos lahat ng mga pangako ko talagang tinupad ko, at on-going na yun,” he said.
He gave me a litany of accomplishments such as:
- reconciliation with local leaders who did not support his candidacy in 2010;
- settlement of 14 rido (clan feuds) under the Maguindanao Task Force Reconcillation and Unification;
- distribution of palm oil and rubber seedlings to Maguindanaoans which were planted in 3,000 hectares of land;
- dispersal of working animals;
- acquisition and deployment of mobile hospital, pharmacy, courtroom and library; and,
- college scholarship for 1,300 students.
The governor proudly said that these accomplishments over the past 2 years never happened during the time of his predecessor.
Mangudadatu is now gunning for his second term. The Ampatuan family is out of his way, its patriarch and his sons and supporters incarcerated in Manila facing trial for the November 23 massacre.
A new opponent
The stumbling block he will now face is a relative, Mayor Tucao Mastura of Sultan Kudarat, a northern town in Maguindano.
Mastura is a fourth generation descendant of Sultan Mastura of Maguindanao, one of the chieftains the Americans dealt with in the 1900s. He’s a Certified Public Accountant by profession, and since 1976, the Mastura family has been managing the town.
“Siya talaga yung kingmaker sa Mastura clan," explained Fr. Jun Mercado, a professor of Islamic Studies and of Peace and Conflict Studies in Notre Dame University. "Whether sabihin natin for mayor sa Sultan Kudarat, mayor sabihin natin sa Sultan Mastura, o sabihin natin sa assembly ng Autonomous Region [in Muslim Mindanao], at sa vice governor, si Dustin Mastura ay hindi naman yan, sabihin na natin nanalo on his own [as vice-governor of Maguindanao]. Kung hindi ang talagang powerbroker dyan ay yung kanyang uncle na si [Sultan Kudarat Mayor] Datu Tucao Mastura.
Datu Tucao was Mangudadatu’s adviser in the 2010 elections. His support was sought by Mangudadatu and his brothers after the Maguindanao massacre in their attempt to build a unified effort against the Ampatuans.
Mastura gave his support and fielded his nephew Dustin Mastura (son of Atty. Michael Mastura who counsels the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the peace talks with the government), as Mangudadatu's running mate. Their tandem won. But four months later, cracks began to show in the Mangudadatu-Mastura partnership.
|Philippine soldiers escort a delivery of vote counting machines for the 2010 elections in Datu Piang town, Maguindanao. Photo by Jay Directo, AFP
From allies to foes
Mangudadatu said Datu Tucao felt bad that he reconciled with other mayors who did not support him during the elections. The governor, for instance, said Mastura was not in good terms with former Mayor Alex Tomawis of Buldon town. Tomawis was assassinated in Davao city in November 2010.
The family of Tomawis suspected that politics was behind the killing, and Datu Tucao was among who was not in good terms with the victim.
“Nasa DOJ kami that time at nag-file ito ng charges, itong kamag-anak ni Alex Tomawis pati misis nya, inabutan ata, nakita ata kami ni Vice-governor ba o si Tucao, so nagduda sila akala nila ako'y naglalakad nung charges para sa kanila. At ako'y meron akong separate na finafollow-up sa DOJ noon, yung Ampatuan massacre, at duda sila, nag duda sa akin. Sabi ko pangit yung kaalyado mo na pinagdududahan ka at maraming sinasabi. So kumbaga nag-sober down ako in mingling with them that time,” explained Mangudadatu.
But Mastura denied this was the reason for their rift. He said that after Mangudadatu's reconciled with other mayors, they no longer reached out to him.
“Eh nung magka reconcile man sila, nakalimutan na ako after 4 months. Kung tatawag ako sa kanya, hindi siya sasagot, mag-text ako sa kanya, hindi siya sasagot. Hangga't talagang, talagang sila na ang naggru-grupo. Nawala na ako sa kasamahan nila. So ako naman, hindi ko ipipilit yung sarili ko,” he said.
The crack has turned into a political divide, and Mastura and Mangudadatu have gone their separate ways. Last October 2012, Mastura sealed it with the filing of his Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for governor of Maguindanao.
Mangudadatu feels sad that politics has to take his relatives away from him. “Hindi ko naman sya pipigilan Jorge, eh yun ay sarili nyang pananaw...kasi ako, nun ako'y naging alkalde, pinakita ko kung anong kakayahan ko, at syempre ako'y nangangarap para sa tao at para sa taong bayan,” he said.
Mangudadatu acknowledged the help that the Masturas gave him in 2010.
Mastura, on the other hand, does not regret helping Mangudadatu. “Bakit ako manghihinayang, ang gusto ko sa panahon na yun ay mawala po si Datu Andal sa poder,” he said.
Mastura added he even spent his own money just to support Mangudadatu.
He also said P3.7 million, supposedly given by the Liberal Party, was used to pay poll watchers in Maguindanao. Mastura claimed that the amount was intended for him, as the provincial coordinator of the Liberal Party, but the money allegedly landed in the hands of the Mangudadatus.
“Tinawagan ko si Toto. Sabi ko, 'To, kukunin ko na sana yung kwan ko, yung para sa watcher ko ng sa Liberal Party na amounting to 3.7 million. Sabi niya, tulong mo na yun sa akin Ma-Pa, sabi ko eh, ginagamit ko ang sarili ko, ginagamit ko ang sarili ko para tulungan ka, yan pa kayang hindi sa akin,” said Mastura.
Mangudadatu, however, denied this. He said the help Mastura provided was given at his expense. “Alam mo, sa totoo lang, ako po'y hindi naman ako naghinayang dun eh pero sayang talaga yung samahan namin. Kung naintindihan nya lang ako kung ano yung sinusulong ko. Kapayapaan ang sinusulong ko, development itong sinusulong ko para sa taong bayan, para sa komunidad to, dapat hindi nya singilin ng ganun,” he said.
The debate is getting more intense, but Mastura believes it won't lead to violence. If there will be arguments between him and his nephew, he also said it will most likely be issues-based and not on personalities.
“Kaya palagay ko, hindi kami magkabanggaan ni Toto. Kung meron man, mga issues lang."