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.
As a peace advocate who has considered Muslim Mindanao as my second region (after Bicol), I join so many others in their shock at and condemnation of what is now called the Maguindanao Massacre of 23 November 2009, likewise in expressing sympathies for the close relatives and friends of those who were killed, especially two fellow human rights lawyers, and calling for speedy justice and other necessary measures of redress and reform. There will never be enough words to describe this almost unbelievably depraved and inhuman incident.
THERE was a time my colleagues at the PCIJ threatened to print shirts that said “I am not JJ” in front and “Neither is she my friend” at the back.
The (hopefully) feigned betrayal stemmed from the stories I was writing at the time about the Ampatuan clan, how its members wielded power, and the sorry state of public education in the province of Maguindanao.
It is the seat of Bangsamoro pride and the heartland of the Moro Sultanate. But as authorities slowly unearth the events that unfolded along a remote stretch of highway Monday morning, November 23, Maguindanao province now holds the distinction of having the worst single case of election violence in recent Philippine history.
As of Monday night, authorities have found at least 21 mutilated bodies in Masalay, Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao. They are believed to belong to a group of 50 people, including 30 local journalists, that departed Buluan town earlier in the day to witness the filing of the certificate of candidacy of gubernatorial hopeful Ishmael Mangudadatu at the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.