BULUAN, Maguindanao— Local bets of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) in Maguindanao doused the possibility of repeating the controversial 12-0 sweep the province, then ruled by Andal Ampatual Sr., gave to the senatorial candidates of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2007.
At the proclamation rally here of the LP attended by President Benigno Aquino III on Friday, local candidates of the administration party vowed to deliver 80 percent of the votes in the province for Team PNoy senatorial bets.
Buluan Mayor Jong Mangudadatu said they will also ensure that the mayors running under the LP and those in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) “would get the same percentage of votes.”
Mangudadatu said it is impossible this time to give the Team Pnoy senatorial slate a complete sweep “since the people of the province are now enjoying a genuine democracy in choosing whom to vote.”
A 12-0 sweep in favor of the administration senatorial candidates could still be possible using fraudulent acts, “but that is not the strategy of the ruling party,” he added.
Maguindanao has 470,021 registered voters in 36 towns.
Arroyo and Ampatuan are co-accused in the election sabotage case filed in connection with the 12-0 sweep in Maguindanao by the administration senatorial candidates in the 2007 elections
Aquino welcomed the support of the local LP leaders to push the victory in Maguindanao of his senatorial candidates in the May 13, 2013 elections.
“ Aba kung tataasan pa ninyo ang 80 percent na iyan, abay hindi po ako magagalit sa inyo (But if you will make that higher than 80 percent, I would not get angry),” the President said.
Half of the Team Pnoy senatorial bets were present: Loren Legarda, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Koko Pimentel, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara and Ramon Magsaysay Jr.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas joined the campaign sortie.
In his speech, Aquino recalled getting just 13 votes in one of the precinct counts while running for senator in the 2007 polls.
It was the first time a sitting president ever visited Buluan, the hometown of the Mangudadatus and host to the “Maguindanao governor’s satellite office” since 2010. The provincial capital of Maguindanao is Shariff Aguak, which is about an hour away and considered the bailiwick of the rival Ampatuan clan.
The grandiose provincial capitol building in Shariff Aguak has been abandoned following the infamous Ampatuan Massacre, which killed 58 people, including 32 media workers, on November 23, 2009, allegedly perpetrated by some members of the Ampatuan clan.
Maguindanao is one of the five provinces in the ARMM that also groups Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Lanao del Sur.
Aquino strongly endorsed his local allies, incumbent Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and ARMM acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman, who are running for provincial governor and regional governor, respectively.
Mangudadatu previously ran as gubernatorial bet of the then ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD headed by Arroyo in the 2010 elections. He later switched allegiance to LP after winning the race.
The President praised Mangudadatu for his strength to move on from his sufferings, and for working to unite the province rather than seek revenge.
Mangudadatu lost his wife and several female family members to the gory Ampatuan Massacre, the worst election-related violence in the country.
“Toto is the light that has brought change to Maguindanao. He did [it] the right way. He championed efforts to promote peace and stability by working to settle rido disputes, [promote] education with his Magpeace scholarships and health initiatives to the rural areas with Philheath cards,” Aquino said,
He noted that under Mangudadatu, the “Seal of Good Housekeeping,” an award given by the Department of the Interior and Local Government to local government units for “excellence in governance,” has been launched in Maguindanao.
Aquino said that Mangudadatu was instrumental in “reducing poverty incidence, private armies and human trafficking in the province.”
On the other hand, Aquino , in endorsing Hataman for ARMM governor, said: “Your progress will depend on whoever you elect. If you want ARMM to prosper, you will do nothing but to vote for Mujiv, and that is part of your contribution to reform.”
Aquino described Hataman as the “real ghostbuster” in combating corruption in the widely perceived corrupt-ridden ARMM bureaucracy.
The President said that under Hataman, government’s funds “have gone down to the right projects and implementors and not to private accounts.”
In his speech, Hataman pointed out the investment potentials of the autonomous Muslim region as a result of the reforms the government initiated in the area.
He said that investors are now coming to ARMM because of the reform initiatives that give premium to transparent and accountable governance.
Heavy traffic in the erstwhile smooth highway marred the LP proclamation rally that from the market of Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat province, it took about an hour to reach the gymnasium here where the rally was held.
Colorful tents were assembled around the gymnasium that was packed by individuals wearing yellow shirts, the trademark campaign color of the administration party.
Security was tightened for the event with the local police, army personnel and the Presidential Security Group scattered everywhere.
An estimated crowd of at least 20,000 from the different towns of Maguindanao came to the mid-day proclamation rally despite the scorching summer heat.
In his speech, Mangudadatu thanked their Lumad, Muslim and Christian supporters for the warm welcome they accorded the President and his senatorial candidates.
Both Mangudadatu and Hataman have vowed to continue their support to the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews and I-Watch. It is supported by The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)