Splitting Maguindanao into two

How will this development factor in the future political tussles among political parties and family dynasties in the province?

September 16, 2022

Today, 17 September, Maguindanaoans will troop to the polling place. They are asked to stamp their approval for the splitting of their province into Maguindanao del Norte and Sur. It’s a foregone conclusion — the yes vote will win overwhelmingly. This column has not come across any whimper of opposition or reservation to the gerrymandering in both mainstream and social media. Followers of this column are all in support of the move. The leadership of the Muslim Autonomous Region has come out publicly supporting the division. This is one rare time perhaps when the political, social, religious and civic leaders of diverse persuasions are all hands on deck to push for the division.

Throwback: On the eve of the last election, 27 May, then president Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11550 splitting the 36 municipalities of the province of Maguindanao into Norte and Sur.

Since it was so close to the husting, the Commission on Elections set the holding of the plebiscite to today, 17 September.

As this column has commented when it was being deliberated, while it is a clear case of political gerrymandering, still the benefits and advantages far outweigh any criticism against it or perceived political selfish reason. This is one subtle ploy of a politician who holds sway over a territory which, although morally repugnant to purists, is beneficial to the stakeholders. It will literally bring government closer to the people. There will be more focus on governance because its public is diluted. The use of public funds will not be dissipated and within the close watch of auditors and supervisors. It will generate more jobs and public infrastructure that will unleash the potential of the place and residents.

The plebiscite also mirrors how fleeting political power is. The split was principally authored, sponsored and shepherded in Congress by Congressman Toto Mangudadatu whose popularity was then at its summit and Congressman Ronnie Sinsuat, who both lost in the election. Cong. Toto committed some missteps along the way that led to his political downfall. He sought to separate the southern part of the province, which he then lorded over, thinking it will perpetuate his hold on power. But alas, another clan of the Mangudadatu frustrated his plans. He lost in the last election to Bae Maryam Mangudadatu, wife of the rising political kingpin Teng Mangudadatu, who is proving to be a political power broker, with his son Pax (namesake of retiring political honcho Datu Pax) winning as governor of the neighboring province of Sultan Kudarat. Datu Teng’s hold on both provinces is firm, especially with his close fraternal relation with the President.

If memory serves right, under the law, reelected Bae Maryam Sangki (another dynastic family) Mangudadatu will assume as governor of Maguindanao del Sur. The vice governor, who is a scion of another political clan, Bae Fatima Aimee Sinsuat — Is she a daughter of a friend of this writer and a Maguindanao icon, Bae Fatima? — will act as the governor of Maguindanao del Norte. That is the law. The division will consolidate the political powers of both families in their respective bailiwicks. The two ladies are respected in their domain, blazing a trail in the alpha-male leadership in the province. The elected members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan will stay, while the new vacancies created by the emergence of a new entity will be filled up by appointment of the President. Former governor/congressman Datu Teng will play an important role in the appointment being the Maguindanao leader closest to the President and responsible for the wide margin of victory of the Marcos-Duterte tandem.

How will this development factor in the future political tussles among political parties and family dynasties in the province? Remember the United Bangsamoro Justice Party has, in many words, made known its plan to do battle with other parties. Although their lead provincial candidates lost in the election, their victory in Cotabato City has given them moxie to face future elections.

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