Maguindanao referendum: A test for whims vs. principles  


by Ali G. Macabalang

The Commission on Elections (Cmelec) is reportedly set to hold this coming Sept. 17 a referendum on the law that seeks to split Maguindanao into two provinces.

The law, R.A. 11550, supposedly set for decision by concerned resident-voters shortly upon its enactment on May 27, 2021, prescribes for the creation of Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte.

Maguindanao del Norte will cover 12 towns: Datu Blah Sinsuat, Barira, Buldon, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Matanog, North Upi, Kabuntalan, Parang, Northern Kabuntalan, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, and Talitay. Datu Odin Sinsuat is earmarked as the northern capital town.

Maguindanao del Sur will comprise Ampatuan, Buluan, Datu Abdulla Sangki, Datu Anggal, Datu Hofer, Midtimbang, Datu Montawal, Datu Paglas, Datu Piang, Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Gen. Salipada Pendatun, Paglat, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Mangudadatu, Pagalungan, Pandag, Rajah Buayan, Shariff Aguak, Shariff Saydona Mustafa, Sultan-sa-Barongis, Talayan, and South Upi. Buluan will remain the seat of the southern province.

The law was authored in the House by former Congressmen Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and Ronnie Sinsuat, who respectively represented the proposed southern and northern provinces, They believed development efforts will be hastened and focused on smaller geo-political units. Maguindanao belongs to the country’s 10 poorest provinces.

Under the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), Mangudadatu ran for governor while Sinsuat vied for reelection in the last elections. But both lost as the allied bloc of sitting Gov. Mariam Sangkit-Mangudadatu, Vice Gov. Lester Sinsuat and the Mastura, Ampatuan, Mitdtimbang and Paglas clans alongside incumbent Iranon leaders mustered a sweep in the provincial and congressional slots.

The alliance bloc has been staunchly opposed to the current leadership of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and its political party, the UBJP. Some members of the allied families, notably former Sultan Kudarat Governor Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu, husband of the lady governor, had announced he would seek appointment in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the BARMM’s interim ruling body, and challenge the regional leadership.

The 80-seat BTA is composed of appointed members. President Bongbong Marcos is authorized under the law to name new members, 41 of them to be nominated by MILF nominees and 39 government-selected. Analysts believe that challenging MILF Chairman and BARMM interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim would be a “fishing expedition.” The “family alliance,” however, banks on their political link to President Marcos.

Meanwhile, lawyer Udtog Tago, Maguindanao elections supervisor, announced in a recent interview that all was set for the conduct of the referendum this September. He said the provincial government had long released some P100-million as initial budget for the political exercise.

The announcement aroused mixed expectations. Some local political pundits said the referendum will be spectacular as to serve as an acid test in the unity of the “family alliance,” which ostensibly hinges on member-clans’ momentary convenience.

They expected the Sinsuat and Mastura clans as well as Iranun leaders to move for the creation of Maguindanao del Norte, where they all belong. And when the new province is created, they said, the three cliques that command one-third (1/3) of the present provincial voting force, will slug it out in an eventual gubernatorial race just the way they did in the mothballed Shariff Kabunsuan province.

On the other hand, the families of the lady governor, the Midtimbangs, Paglas and Ampatuans, who rule in the areas of the proposed Maguindanao del Sur, will likely oppose the provincial division. One reason, analysts said, is the diminution in the families’ chance to thwart another gubernatorial bid by former Rep. Mangudadatu, who was elected governor for three terms from 2010 to 2019. The siblings of the former lawmaker currently rule in Buluan, Pandag and Mangudadatu towns, which constitute a voting force to reckon with in elections.

In a nutshell, the upcoming referendum will reflect whether current political alliances in Maguindanao are founded on principles or whims.

(Comments or reactions can be emailed to the columnist at


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