PRESIDENT BENIGNO Simeon C. Aquino III may have taken to publicly scolding septuagenarian Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III over the latter’s role in the recent Sabah misadventure, but when Manila was still a marshland, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao were already thriving political and economic centers in the region. Unlike the clans in Luzon and the Visayas who trace their roots to their economic base in the area, the clans in Moro areas have deeper historical and religious roots.
“The clans have played an important role in pre-republic history,” says Mussolini Lidasan, director of the Al Qalam Institute, the research arm of the Ateneo de Davao University and an active member of Moro civil society organizations. “The datu system is one of the oldest potent institutions in Southern Philippines.”
FOR A PROVINCE that is turning only 40 years old this year, Maguindanao has managed to emerge as “the most governed,” if only by the number of governance structures physically erected for the province. In the last four decades, the provincial capitol has moved a total of six times to five different places in four decades, depending on the whims of the newly elected governor.
When Maguindanao province was spun off from the greater Cotabato empire province in 1973, the first governor, Simeon Datumanong, held office in Limpongo, in what is now Datu Hoffer town. His successor, Zacaria Candao, held office on PC Hill in Cotabato City before resigning in 1977. The replacement governor, Datu Sanggacala Baraguir of Sultan Kudarat town, naturally wanted the capitol in his bailiwick, and had a new capitol built in Sultan Kudarat. The fourth governor, Sandiale Sambolawan, returned the provincial government to Shariff Aguak.
DATU HOFFER, Maguindanao — This municipality is just a kilometer or so from the capitol, but it barely looks like a town. Bereft of any paved roads, it has a scattering of huts around hillsides. There is no town center, no business and commercial establishments, and the municipal hall sits alone on a hilltop — gleaming white cement and grey granite, obviously new, yet seemingly unused. There is no activity that one would associate with the governance of any regular municipality.
That’s because as far as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is concerned, Datu Hoffer is one of many newly minted towns of Maguindanao in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that should not even be called a town.
IF ANDAL AMPATUAN SR. and his sons ruled Maguindanao as if they owned the province, perhaps it was because they really owned a sizeable chunk of it — and parts of Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao City, and Makati City as well.
Andal Sr. and his sons Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, officials who hail from one of the poorest provinces in the country, own close to five million square meters of property scattered throughout Maguindanao, Cotabato, Davao, and even in ritzy Dasmariñas Village in Makati, according to records in the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22, where there is a pending civil forfeiture case against the Ampatuan properties.
ON JUNE 6, 2011, a year and a half after the Maguindanao Massacre claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists, the Court of Appeals ordered the freezing of all the known assets of those accused of involvement in the crime: Andal Ampatuan Sr., his sons Andal Jr. and Zaldy, and 25 other Ampatuan family members and their associates.
The Court of Appeals Special Second Division headed by Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo issued the freeze order against 597 bank accounts, 113 real properties, 142 firearms, and 132 motor vehicles allegedly owned by the Ampatuans. Its objective: Prevent the frittering away of properties of one of the most powerful clans in the country while government pursues a civil forfeiture case against many of its members.