By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – As political climates for next year’s local and national polls continued to heat up, imprimaturs for the gubernatorial races in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat (SK) loom to be a couple vs. couple between estranged cousins Congressman Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and Governor Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu.
The lawmaker announced this week the gubernatorial bid of his wife, beauty queen Sharifa Akeel to possibly face the incumbent SK governor. He was earlier named standard bearer for governor by the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) in Maguindanao where sitting Gov. Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, wife of the SK chieftain, bids for reelection.
The 24-year old Sharifa, the crowned Miss Asia Pacific International in 2018 who formally married the lawmaker in a grand rite here on Aug. 25 this year, grew up in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat and is registered voter in the province, official narratives said as supporters welcomed her political venture.
Rep. Mangudadatu on Tuesday told reporters his wife joined politics and will run for governor in SK to inspire youth’s active role in community leadership and development.
Supporters said Sharifa’s chance could be slim against Governor Teng, but added her bid will proportionately answer the way the SK leader fielded his wife, then Datu Abdullah Sangki Mayor Mariam, in the 2019 gubernatorial race in Maguindanao.
Mariam defeated former mayors’ league president Freddie Mangudadatu, the lawmaker’s brother, with the Sinsuat and Mastura political clans breaking a 2018 covenant and shifting to the lady politician’s camp.
Trade of revelations and barbs
Couple Governors Teng and Mariam promptly reacted to Sharifa’s bid, saying she was free to seek any elective slot. The husband still has two remaining gubernatorial terms, but announced his plan to shift residence to Maguindanao and seek appointment in the interim Bangsamoro parliament.
Gov. Mariam berated Sharifa’s bid, saying Rep. Toto was “exploiting” his wife for “personal” gains. She also deplored the UBJP, an official political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro governance, for creating disunity among families in Maguindanao and SK.
Instead of addressing threats by the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and illegal drugs issues, the UBJP meddled in local politics using state resources, Mariam told a meeting in the vernacular.
Sources from the UBJP refuted the allegations, saying the couple was the one allegedly reneging on covenants for unity and trust in the 2019 elections and in the Congressional deliberation of a bill extending the interim Bangsamoro governance operational period from 2022 to 2025.
In a separate video recorded interview, Rep. Mangudadatu belied Gov. Mariam’s accusations of alleged exploitation and bias against women leadership, saying he has never in life belittled women rights to leadership. He hinted at the prospective candidacy of Sharifa as a show of high regard in women’s capabilities.
The lawmaker, a former three-term Maguindanao governor, said it was the couple that has been allegedly employing arbitrary practices of planting evidence in filing cases against his brothers and members of his extended family.
The UBJP leadership, which reportedly held a meeting here with Rep. Mangudadatu on Thursday, echoed its earlier policy-statement that their participation in the 2022 elections was meant to ensure that elected local officials will be closely cooperating with the Bangsamoro regional governance and to return favor to political leaders who had shown genuine support to Congressional processes concerning the new autonomy.
The UBJP fielded Rep. Mangudadatu and former three-term Bai Sandra Sema as its official candidates for governor and vice governor in Maguindanao. The male solon was the principal sponsor of the bill that postpones the 2022 poll for parliament members and extends the Bangsamoro Transition Authority’s (BTA’s) lifespan to 2025, while Sema was main of R.A. 11054 that created the new autonomous region.
It also endorsed the reelection bid of Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Ronnie Sinsuat for his active support in the BTA extension call, and those of incumbent Board Members Bimbo Sinsuat and Jam Sinsuat.
The couple governors’ “family alliance” with the Masutra and other Sinsuat politicians fielded Mariam for reelection in tandem with Ainee Limbona-Sinsuat, wife of incumbent three-term Vice Governor Lester Sinsuat who will run for mayor in Datu Odin Sinsuat town against a relative from the UBJP.
It drafted BTA Member of Parliament Sittie Shahara Dimple Ibrahim-Mastura for the 1st District Congressional slot against reelection-seeking Rep. Sinsuat, and Datu Paglas town vice Mayor Mohammad “Tong” Paglas for the 2nd district post. Paglas has no rival yet from the UBJP. (AGM)