By Ali G. Macabalang
BULUAN, Maguindanao – Amid influx of praises for his feats in Congress, Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu bared on Thursday his plan to seek via May 9, 2022 elections the gubernatorial post he held for three terms – a bid pitting him on a one-on-one contest with cousin-in-law and incumbent Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu.
Rep. Mangudadatu was interviewed by the Philippine Muslim Today and two other journalists at the sidelight of the visit here of Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, who conveyed to him the “gratitude” of the Bangsamoro government officialdom’s for his role in the approval on third and final reading last Wednesday of House Bill 10121.
“Tatakbo ako at yan ang gusto ng aking mga supporters at kaibigan na ako’y babalik sa pagkagovernor sa darating na eleksyon,” the former three-term governor said when pressed to comment on related pervasive information.
Mangudadatu is a key member of the ruling PDP-Laban party, under which he ran and won in the 2019 elections for the second Congressional district seat of Maguindanao before his three gubernatorial terms ended on June 30 of the same year.
The ruling national party has been split into two factions – one organized and presided by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and chaired by President Duterte, while another is led by Senators Manny Pacquiao and Koko Pimentel.
The lawmaker would not say under which faction he would seek the gubernatorial seat, especially so that his rival, sitting Gov. Sangki-Mangudadatu enjoys the “equity of incumbent” under electoral and political norms.
In an earlier huddle with the PMT, Rep. Mangudadatu had mentioned having registered about six years ago a local group called Maguindanao Reform Party (MRP), which he said has been allied with the regional United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) now ruling the new autonomous government.
On Thursday, Mangudadatu admitted an imminent uphill battle in a contest with the incumbent lady governor, wife of his cousin – incumbent Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu.
The lady governor has ostensibly developed strong alliance with majority of the Maguindanao’s 36 sitting mayors that began with the shift to her camp of first district-based influential Mastura and Sinsuat political clans, which ignored a unity covenant forged on October 8, 2018 in Cotabato City to field a gubernatorial bet from the clan led by now Rep. Mangudadatu.
The lawmaker’s younger sibling, former Maguindanao mayors’ league president Freddie Mangudadatu ran but lost to the now sitting lady governor in the 2019 polls where the two gathered 201,565 and 256,338 votes, respectively.
The 18th Congress enacted on May 27 this year R.A. 11550 dividing this province two – Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur.
Rep. Mangudadatu and 1st District Rep. Ronnie Sinsuat co-authored the law that was expected to be ratified by the provincial electorates before next year’s elections. But the Commission on Elections through an en banc resolution deferred the conduct of a referendum to “four months” after the 2022 synchronized national and local elections.
Both the sitting lawmaker and the incumbent governor belong to Maguindanao del Sur where local political pundits believed the former could easily overwhelm the latter in a one-on-one contest.
But the lawmaker on Thursday said he was unfazed by being underdog in the coming gubernatorial contest, recalling how Maguindanao voters elected him against governor against the clout of the Ampatuan clan that wielded immense over the province and the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Ampatuans lost grip of the province and ARMM as a result of the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 massacre where 58 people perished, among them 32 media workers and Mangudadatu lost his wife, two sisters, two female lawyers and other helpless supporters. Key leaders of the clan have been indicted as suspects, some of them convicted after years of court trials in Quezon City.
Mangudadatu said the provincial electors chose him on the basis of his platform for “tapat at mapayapa” leadership.
On several occasions, the lawmaker and other elected members of his family had complained of alleged intimidations by the camp of the sitting governor. Among others, he mentioned the recall of his police escorts and harassments on his son Board Member Jazzer “King” and nephew Buluan Mayor Babydats Mangudadatu.
The rival camp has yet to react publicly to the complaints. The PMT, which seeks comments from the camp, tried many times but failed to get words from the lady governor or his key lieutenants via mobile numbers given by a media worker close to the reigning officials.
Provincial administrator Odjie Balayman could not be reached by call, replying only by text message today, Friday: “Let him (Rep. Mangudadatu) file first but I will ask the governor if she’s willing to be interviewed on this subject matter.” (AGM)