By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Governor-elect Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu plans to move the government seat of Maguindanao for the nth time and turn it into a “provincial government on wheels” to better serve the people.
Outvoting Maguindanao Mayors’ League president Freddie Mangudadatu by over 50,000 votes in the last gubernatorial race, Mariam is the first female winner governor of the province.
Freddie, outgoing mayor of Mangudadatu town, is the younger brother of three-term Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who was proclaimed winner in the congressional race in Maguindanao’s second district. The brothers are cousins of Mariam’s husband – Sultan Kudarat reelected Governor Suharto Mangudadatu.
After her proclamation, Mariam said: “I will move the capital (seat) to Shariff Aguak where it should be and not in Buluan.”
Provincial government on wheels
Mariam’s father, former Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA) Executive Director Ali Sangki, posted on Facebook an edited image of Maguindanao’s provincial government “on wheels.”
Sangki rallied behind Mariam’s plan, and blamed authorities for having not fixed a permanent capitol seat in Maguindanao.
The planned transfer, if carried out, will be the seventh or eighth time the provincial seat will be moved since the inception of Maguindanao.
Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces were created simultaneously in 1973 out of the then Empire province of Cotabato, whose capitol seat was located at the Pedro Colina (PC) Hill in Cotabato City.
South Cotabato was carved out first from the empire province in 1966, with Marbel (now Koronadal City) as its capital town. Then empire Cotabato governor Datu Udtog Matalam transferred his provincial government seat from Cotabato City to Pagalungan, his home town, from 1967 to 1973. Pagalungan is part of Maguindanao now.
The first appointed governor of Maguindanao – the late Simeon Datumanong, who served as empire provincial governor, brought the new province’s seat to Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak), his hometown. Meanwhile, the capitol sites of North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat have been fixed in Kidapawan and Isulan, respectively, to date.
Datumanong’s successor Zacaria Candao held office at the PC Hill (old Cotabato seat) in Cotabato City, his domicile.
Candao resigned in 1977, prompting the Marcos government to appoint Sanggcala Baraguir as governor and put the Maguindanao new capitol site to Nuling (now Sultan Kudarat), the appointee’s home town.
The next governor, Sandiale Sambolawan, was elected in 1980. He held office in his hometown of Maganoy (Shariff Aguak). To legalize Maganoy as provincial government seat, Batas Pambansa 211 was passed in 1982. But a plebiscite required in the law was never held as set on Dec. 18, 1982, thus, retaining Sultan Kudarat town still capital of Maguindanao by law (de jure), and Maganoy as capital in practice (de facto).
The next two governors – Zacaria Candao (1986–1992; 1995–2001) and Norodin Matalam (1992–1995) – held office in Sultan Kudarat, thereby restoring the town’s status as both de jure and de facto provincial capital from 1986 to 2001.
Despite lack of legal basis, the next governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr. (2001–2008), held office in their hometown of Shariff Aguak, citing security concerns due to political rifts with the Candaos and allies.
The Ampatuans built a P218-million provincial government center, inaugurated by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007, near their residential homes on a family-owned parcel of land in Shariff Aguak.
Esmael Mangudadatu, who won the 2010 gubernatorial election, opted to hold a “satellite office” in Buluan, his home town. His running-mate Vice Governor Dustin Mastura held the Sangguniang Panlalawigan office in Sultan Kudarat, which is also the Mastura clan’s home base.
The conduct of separate executive and legislative offices was supported by SP resolutions passed in 2010 and 2011. Malacañang concurred with the arrangement in deference to the intense political rift between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus that peaked in the massacre of 58 people, 32 of them local media workers, on Nov. 23, 2009.
(The massacre fatalities, led by Mangudadatu’s wife, Ginalyn, two sisters, and two female lawyers, were travelling to Shariff Aguak to file the gubernatorial candidacy of then Buluan Vice Mayor Mangudadatu when they were waylaid by more than 100 armed men allegedly led by then gubernatorial aspirant Andal Ampatuan Jr.)
Upon reelection in 2013, Gov. Mangudadatu contemplated to report to Shariff Aguak after his political ally Maroup Ampatuan was elected mayor of the de facto capital town.
But Mangudadatu rescinded later his plan, saying that provincial officials discovered that the lot housing the P218-million capitol building has not been officially donated by the family of the late Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
In 2016, the Mangudadatu administration built a modern provincial capitol complex along Buluan highway, using part of its P1.7-billion loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). The construction followed the passage of a Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolution fixing the capitol seat in Buluan.
President Duterte, who had reportedly augmented the capitol center construction cost with P150-million, inaugurated the new capitol building in time for Maguindanao’s Inaul Festival celebration last February.