By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO—Things were different when the previous sitting President last visited this province.
Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s low-profile stop at Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao, late in March 2009 was hardly note-worthy and routine at most.
On her itinerary was a briefing on the Solid Waste Management Program in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and a ribbon-cutting at the newly-built P218-million provincial capitol complex.
The photo-ops of Arroyo and her hosts, the Ampatuans, took a different light eight months later, when 57 corpses of civilians and media workers were found and dug up in Ampatuan town.
The so-called Maguindanao massacre was tagged on the ruling clan, particularly Andal Sr. and his son, Andal Jr. In turn, it also tainted Arroyo’s term being the climax of hundreds of extra-judicial killings during her stay in power.
Year 2013 found them replaced by rivals and detained under criminal charges. But politics has its way of repeating itself. Maguindanao still proves the election trophy crucial even to opposing administrations.
Last April 12, red, yellow, and green frills welcomed Pres. Benigno Aquino III to Buluan, hometown of re-electionist Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
No longer is the governor’s seat in Shariff Aguak, where the palatial capitol complex came to signify the opulence of the Ampatuans amid the squalor of the province.
Aquino flew from Cotabato City where he checked on projects being implemented by Mujiv Hataman, the ARMM caretaker governor who is vying for an elected term this May.
This next stop was more political than administrative—an opportunity to raise the hands of Mangudadatu, Hataman, and the Liberal Party (LP) bets here. Nearly all top officials in ARMM and Maguindanao had now aligned themselves with Aquino.
Buluan’s nearly-completed gymnasium hosted the area’s first LP rally. Residents–estimated from 50,000 to 70,000–endured the midday heat and lined up through security checks.
The covered court could not contain all, explaining the second stage put up outside. Spectators listened to local candidates there while sitting or standing under gigantic umbrellas.
There, Team PNoy senatorial candidates Koko Pimentel, Jun Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, and Loren Legarda first gave their campaign speeches before repeating them inside the gym.
The attendance shows what has changed in Maguindanao in more than three years. Even a political rally here was unthinkable before.