2022 Maguindanao referendum: A test for unity in ruling ‘family alliance’ bloc


by Ali G. Macabalang

FOUR months after the May 9, 2022 synchronized polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expected to hold a plebiscite in Maguindanao for the ratification of R.A. 11550, according to a past pronouncement from the poll body.

The law, which President Duterte signed on May 27, 2021, mandates the division of the province into Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur. It was conceived obviously to hasten growth in the province, particularly in the 36 constituent municipalities.     

Maguindanao del Norte will cover 12 towns, namely: Datu Blah Sinsuat, Barira, Buldon, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Matanog, Kabuntalan, North Upi, Parang, Northern Kabuntalan, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, and Talitay. The law points to Datu Odin Sinsuat as a northern capital town.

Maguindanao del Sur will comprise Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Abdulla Sangki, Datu Anggal, Datu Hofer, Midtimbang, Datu Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Piang, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Gen. Salipada Pendatun, Paglat, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Mangudadatu, Pagalungan, Pandag, Rajah Buayan, Shariff Aguak, Shariff Saydona Mustafa, Sultan-sa-Barongis, Talayan, and South Upi. Buluan is retained as the seat of the southern province.

Upon enactment, R.A. 11550 was published in the Official Gazette as required for every new law before it could get implemented.   

Congressmen Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and Ronnie Sinsuat of Maguindanao’s 2nd and first Districts, respectively, principal authors of the edict in the House of Representatives, were reportedly hopeful for the conduct of referendum in Maguindanao on before the May 9, 2022 elections. The optimism was bolstered by reports that the Maguindanao provincial government had set aside and reportedly disbursed some P120-million or so to bankroll the proceedings.

But the Comelec announced later that the plebiscite was reset to a period four months after the 2022 elections. The deferment was reportedly meant for the polls body to prepare fully for the elections. But there were rumors that the deferment was instigated by a local political quarter for its own welfare.

The four-month deferment will end on August 9 this year. The Comelec, unless it revokes its standing schedule, will likely hold the referendum in the later part of August or early days of September this year.

The referendum, based on experts’ analysis, will be as intense as the highly-charged proceedings of local elections in Maguindanao. Majority if not all protagonists in the last provincial elections will be playing active roles either for the ratification or disapproval of R.A. 11550.

Politicians composing the ruling “Family Alliance” bloc that mustered a sweep in the contests for provincial posts will likely be divided in referendum. The bloc is constituted by the clans of reelected Gov. Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, Ampatuans and Midtimbangs of second district (proposed as Maguindanao del Sur), and Masturas, Sinsuats and Iranun politicians of the second district (eyed as Maguindanao del Norte).

Practical reasons

The family of outgoing Vice Governor Lester Sinsuat is expected to push for the approval or ratification of the law because the creation of Maguindanao del Norte will make his wife, Bai Ainee Limbona-Sinsuat, OIC-governor. The wife was elected vice governor in the recent polls, while the husband was elected mayor of Datu Odin Sinsuat town.

The Mastura clan led by outgoing Bangsamoro Parliament Member Tocao Mastura, who elected for nth time mayor of Sultan Kudarat town, and political leaders in the Iranun bloc long craving for their own political domain will likewise push for the creation of Maguindnao del Norte.

In the present Maguindanao setup, the towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Sultan Kudarat and Parang are vote-rich. Parang town belongs to the Iranun political landscape. Outcomes of provincial elections have always been shaped by results from the three towns.

The creation of Maguindanao del Norte would be a sort of revival of the Supreme Court-abolished Shariff Kabunsuan province. The 24-member legislature of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) created such province in October 2006, resulting to the stewardship of then elected Maguindanao Vice Governor Bimbo Sinsuat as OIC-governor.

The first election for Shariff Kabunsuan in 2007 pitted Sinsuat against Sultan Kudarat Mayor Tocao Mastura, even as the late Congressman Digs Dilangalen (now deceased) questioned the legal foundation of the province covering his Congressional domain (Cotabato City and Maguindanao’s 1st district). The High Tribunal favored the petition for the abolition of the infant province.

During the protracted gubernatorial contest between Sinsuat and Mastura and the pendency of Dilangalen’s petition, then Parang town Mayor Ibrahim Ibay Jr. who was elected vice governor in 2007 acted as OIC-governor. Ibay’s brief stint in the gubernatorial seat aroused his Iranun bloc to crave for a separate political domain.

Likely forecast

The Sinsuat and Mastura clans as well as the Iranun bloc (constituting four towns) are likely to push for ratification of the plebiscite on the split of Maguindanao under R.A. 11550, according to local political analysts.

On the other hand, they said, the family of reelected Maguindanao Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and her supporters may move for disapproval of the law in the referendum. There are some reasons given. One was the theory that the lady governor’s political clout would be reduced in a fashion that can give opposition quarters a bigger chance to defeat her in the 2025 elections.

Outgoing Reps. Toto Mangudadatu and Ronnie Sinsuat and other members of their families suffered their first electoral defeat in the May 9, 2022 polls against the “Family Alliance” bloc.

Results of the latest gubernatorial poll showed that minus the votes cast from the three vote-richest towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Sultan Kudarat and Parang, Rep.Mangudadatu would have won the gubernatorial seat for the fourth time. He was elected governor in 2010, 2013 and 2016, supporters claimed. (Comments or reactions can be emailed to the columnist at alimac.bulletin@gmail.com.)  

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