By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Lawyer Saidamen B. Pangarungan, a seasoned politico-bureaucrat, has taken over the helm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), becoming the second Muslim chairman of the poll body after the retirement last month of Chairman Sheriff Abas, the first Muslim chief of the chamber.
President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Pangarungan to the Comelec on March 7 for a seven-year term in what Palace officials described as a recognition of the vital reforms the latter had instituted in the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
The President had named Pangarungan as NCMF secretary on July 9, 2018 for a two-year term, and appointed him again last year after successfully fixing operational odds in the Commission, particularly in the administration of hajj activities that substantially decreased the flight fares of Filipino pilgrims and improved their billeting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Pangarungan assumed the Comelec chairman’s office on the same day he took oath of office before Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo on Tuesday, March 8.
His wife Johayra Diamond Ali Pacasum Pangarungan, reigning Bailabi-a-Gaus sa Ranao and former member of the legislative assembly of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), alongside their three children witnessed the oath-taking ceremony at the Supreme Court.
Under Pangarungan’s extended leadership, the NCMF received on Dec. 16, 2021 ISO 9001:2015 Seal of Excellence Certification by the Bureau Veritas of France in recognition of his administration’s feat in reforming the Hajj processes and expanding the Commission’s thrusts to cover advocacy on preventing violent extremism, Dr. Dimapuno Alonto-Datu Ramos Jr., NCMF spokesman said.
“Malacanang had also issued a statement citing the NCMF’s receipt of the ISO certification,” Datu Ramos said.
He once said Pangarungan’s remedial efforts in the NCMF included the dismissal of erring officials holding directorial posts.
Pangarungan was born Sept. 23,1950 in Dansalan (now Marawi City) to Datu Abdulrahman Diambangan Balt of the Sultanate of Bayang, and the late Bae Jameela Asum Pangarungan Amai Manabilang of the Sultanate of Lanao.
He studied at the Jamiatul Philippine al-Islamia (Islamic University of the Philippines) in Marawi City, where he was a consistent valedictorian in his elementary and high school years in 1956–1966. He finished his Liberal Arts degree in 1971 and Law in 1976 at the San Beda University as a consistent college scholar.
He passed the Philippine bar examinations on the same year with a weighted average of 85.6%.He immediately went to law practice for 24 years including his eight-year stint with the prestigious Siguion-Reyna, Montecillo & Ongsiako Law offices in Makati City, where he became a legal counsel of both local and multi-national companies, including the Bank of America, Goodyear, Caltex, Sumitomo, Dole Philippines, San Miguel Corp., PLDT, Philippine Airlines, and Equitable PCI Bank (now BDO).
Running as opposition bet against the ruling Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, Pangarungan was elected Assemblyman of the ARMM from 1979 to 1982.
After the EDSA revolution in 1986, Pangarungan was appointed acting governor of Lanao del Sur, replacing governor Ali Dimaporo, a powerful ally of then President Marcos during the martial law era.
His gubernatorial reign was challenged in the kidnapping of 12 Carmelite nuns from their Marawi hilltop convent by lawless armed men. From the Vatican, Pope John Paul II appealed to the captors to release the nuns who were later brought to Lumbayanague town across south of Lake Lanao.
After two weeks of search, Pangarungan led state security forces and encircled the kidnappers’ holdout. Under heavy pressure, the outnumbered kidnappers were forced to release all the nuns, safe and unharmed, it was learned.
Abolition of over 2,000 ‘ghost’ barangays
Pangarungan was later appointed as undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government by President Corazon Aquino. He was tasked as head the inter-agency committee that investigated “ghost” barangays in Muslim provinces.
After six months of ocular investigations and on Pangarungan’s recommendation, Pres. Aquino issued an executive order abolishing some 2,000 ghost barangays in the two Lanao provinces, saving the government billions of pesos in regular allotments to the non-existent or uninhabited villages. As undersecretary, he also helped craft an executive order granting regular salaries and allowances to barangay (village) officials in the country.
In the 1988 polls, Pangarungan was elected governor of Lanao del Sur, beating for the first time political dynasties in the province. As governor, he built the four-hectare provincial capitol complex overlooking the scenic Lake Lanao, the provincial library, the People’s Park in Marawi City, and other vital infrastructure projects.
His gubernatorial reign had also concreted 110 kilometers of major road networks: The Lake Lanao circumferential road and the Marawi-Malabang Road. At that time, the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of the provincial government was a measly P850,000 a month compared to the P160 million monthly in the 2017 figures. During Pangarungan’s watch, the province was drug-free because of his staunch campaign against illegal drugs trade.
It was also characterized by the stable peace and order in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City, sans recorded firefights or skirmishes between government and rebel forces. He had negotiated the surrender of thousands of MNLF and MILF rebels.
For his unprecedented achievements, Pangarungan was awarded thrice as one of the “Most Outstanding Governors of the Philippines” in three consecutive years: 1989, 1990 and 1991.
Pangarungan was also a member of the Philippine delegation at the World Muslim Congress in Karachi, Pakistan in 1983, where he sponsored the adoption of the ‘Karachi Declaration for Peace & Unity’ to revive the stalled peace talks between the Marcos government and the rebel MNLF and BMLO forces.
In 1987, President Cory Aquino sent Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Agapito Butz Aquino, Norberto Gonzales and Pangarungan to the Organization of Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to revive the peace talks with the MNLF-Nur Misuari faction. This led to the signing of the Jeddah Accord of 1987. Nur Misuari ended his exile and returned to the Philippines to eventually sign the 1996 Final Peace Accord with the government.
Mindanao power crisis
In 2007, Pangarungan became President of the Agus 3 Hydropower Corporation; and later in 2013 as chairman/CEO of the Maranao Energy Corp.(MENCO) that won the government bid on the Agus 3 hydropower project (240MWs) in 2015. He pursued the Agus 3 project to help address the crippling power crisis in Mindanao in 2010 to 2015.
Marawi Compensation Bill
Few months after the infamous 2017 Marawi siege, Pangarungan helped the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Lanao del Sur Chapter in crafting a draft of Marawi Compensation Bill and lobbied for sponsorship in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Congress has recently passed the bill. (AGM)