By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Halalan 2013 Maguindanao Log 2. (Read the first log here)
COTABATO CITY—In Mindanao, this was one bout to watch. Symbolic in many ways, the battle for the governorship of Maguindanao tested the new political climate of the province after 2010.
The two contenders were former political allies, mounted together during the previous election to fight the Ampatuans. They are even related by blood.
Datu Tucao Mastura, mayor of Sultan Kudarat town (not to be confused with the province) a few kilometers north of Cotabato City, is the uncle of re-electionist Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. A “distant” one though, Mastura clarifies.
Mastura, the elder and a “kingmaker” in the province, supported Mangudadatu’s bid in 2010. Mastura even fielded his nephew Dustin as Mangudadatu’s running mate and acted as campaign manager.
But strained relations and supposedly broken promises during Mangudadatu’s first term parted the two.
Tucao Mastura was the provincial chair of the Liberal Party in 2010 when Toto Mangudadatu ran under Lakas-Kampi-CMD. Mangudadatu and other local leaders later trooped to the LP. Following differences, Mastura bolted and ran under the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Like other high-profile head-to-heads this election, no words were minced as the two attacked each other and dredged up past offenses. The row reached the national awareness with ABS-CBN’s KampanyaSerye documentaries.
Both accused each other of coddling the Ampatuans. Mastura said Mangudadatu reneged on his campaign pledge to bring back the provincial capital to Sultan Kudarat town and then left Mastura and company in the air.
Mangudadatu countered that Mastura power-tripped even with no position, acting as governor by approving or killing projects. He claimed the Masturas such as his vice-governor were maligning him and hindering his initiatives.
If anything, the exchange of diatribes reflected how candidates could openly speak and campaign in Maguindanao this time around.
Not far behind though are allegations of back-handed violence between both camps, who signed a peace covenant months before.
Both charged the other of masterminding killings. When a grenade was thrown at the house of Mastura’s mayoral candidate in a Mangudadatu bailiwick, the former blamed the latter. Late in the campaign, a fire razed the Liberal Party headquarters in Sultan Kudarat town. The owners of the property claimed they were threatened previously by Mastura’s men. No incident was conclusively linked to either candidate.
Yet beyond that, the verbal war hardly became violent.
The barbs leveled off two days before the polls, as Mastura and Mangudadatu simultaneously held packed meetings de avance in their home towns.
Amid long, winding speeches by local candidates, the standard-bearers appealed to each other to lay off the personal attacks.
Halfway through Mangudadatu’s event in Buluan, one of his daughters took the podium. As her siblings sat with their father nearby, she broke down to tears asking her “Lolo Tucao” to stop saying that Toto risked the life of his wife Genalyn in 2009. Genalyn’s fateful trip to file Toto’s candidacy ended in the Maguindanao massacre.
Asked by reporters after, Toto Mangudadatu said his children were hurt hearing the insinuations and wanted to speak out. He urged his rival to focus on his platforms and achievements instead.
Up north, Tucao Mastura told our news team the same message for Mangudadatu: act professional and stop hurling false charges. It was the end of the campaign anyway so it was best to tone down, he said.
It all ended in a tumult of cheers at the hall of the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex here in Cotabato City on May 15. The hall, part of the ARMM Governor’s compound, was where the provincial Comelec met to canvass the results.
Three remaining towns had yet to transmit their votes that afternoon: Northern Kabuntalan, Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun, and Sultan Kudarat. Mangudadatu had now comfortably led Mastura by 90,000 votes. He already arrived there from Buluan in an armored tank awaiting his apparent proclamation.
But it took hours persuading the Board of Canvassers to lower the limit for calling the election. In the end, the Comelec agreed that even if all registered voters in the three municipalities voted for Mastura, it would not be enough to beat Mangudadatu.
UNA attorneys there raised no objections. Mastura was absent, but he told a news crew that his camp planned to file an electoral protest.
The stage was crowded as the board finally raised the hands of Mangudadatu and his running mate Lester Sinsuat before midnight.
After Mangudadatu’s other party mates and relatives were proclaimed, he called on the rest of his family and supporters to the stage for picture taking. An elderly man approached and shook his hand, prompting Mangudadatu to embrace him. It was Datu Midpantao Midtimbang, one of Mangudadatu’s gubernatorial rivals in 2010 and Mastura’s party mate.
Interviewed before his proclamation, Toto Mangudadatu clearly wanted to change the post-election rhetoric.
He told Jorge Cariño: “I myself will find a way for us to reconcile.”
Then, to other reporters he aired an apology to Mastura for any hurtful words he might have said. “It was just because of the election.”
Now that the Maguindanaoans have chosen, this election will hardly be the last we will hear of Tucao Mastura, patriarch of one of Maguindanao’s powerful and influential clans.
But as the tide of politics here changed in the past three years, the next three will tell if these two TMs will find themselves on the same side again.