Netizens lament melee in Maguindanao town

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Majority social media users, known as netizens, have deplored the pandemonium caused inside the mayor’s office in Pandag, Maguindanao del Sur by what they described as “provocative” entry by mixed civilians and security contingents led by the governor of the province on Thursday, Nov. 24, afternoon.

Videos shared by relatives and friends of Pandag Vice Mayor Zihan Mamalinta-Mangudadatu went viral in social media channels and continued to draw a growing volume of reactions mostly sympathetic to her plight in the hands of Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu during the fateful incident.

The husbands of Zihan and Mariam, incumbent Pandag Mayor Khadafe “Toy” Mangudadatu, and former Sultan Kudarat Governor Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu, respectively, are second cousins. But their kinship has turned sour due to political differences since the 2019 elections.

One of the videos posted on a Facebook group – “Mindanao news, issues, views and concerns” – has already reached over 12,000 people in a day as of press time.

The group’s post gathered 123 reactions and was shared 351 times so far with 52 comments, which all lamented the way the governor confronted the vice mayor inside the mayor’s office at about 3:35pm Thursday.

In the video, the governor was seen grabbing the vice mayor’s mobile phone and poised to hit the latter with the unit, but was prevented by one of the former’s escorts.

The vice mayor was heard pleading, “huwag mo pakialaman ma’am ang cellphone ko, before a melee broke out inside the office and apparently left many people hurt.

Netizens lamented the governor’s act, likening it to acts of an “uncivilized” or “abusive” public official.

Zihan served as acting mayor since her husband-mayor was arrested on September 10 and detained for over two months due to double raps filed against him. Her momentary succession was authorized by the Bangsamoro autonomous government’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), which awarded her a certificate of recognition (COR).

Her husband was freed momentarily by a regional trial court on bail after the Department of Justice dismissed the double murder case for insufficient in form.

Mayor Toy, the husband, told reporters he would report back to office after obtaining another COR from the MILG. The MILG issued him COR days after the municipal board of canvassers proclaimed him elected mayor on May 10 for obtaining 4,307 votes against the 2,445 votes of rival candidate Mohajeran “Odjie” Balayman, a former provincial administrator of Gov. Mariam.

But Balayman protested the election result before a regional trial court for alleged vote rigging. The court reportedly conducted a recount of votes and declared Balayman as duly-elected mayor for obtaining 2,740 votes against Toy’s 2,070 votes in a ruling issued on October 14.

On October 18, Balayman was sworn into office by the governor and assumed office on October 20. But Mayor Toy through a legal counsel had sought a legal relief before the Commission on Election. On October 19, the Comelec’s First Division issued an injunction order sustaining his election and proclamation as winner, advising the court and other concerned parties to cease and desist from installing Balayman’s to office.

In a live podcast on Friday, lawyer Israelito “Bobbit” Torreon, a Davao City law school’s dean and a lead counsel of Toy, said Balayman’s assumption of office was arbitrary in view of the Comelec body’s ruling.

Torreon also questioned Balayman’s stance, saying that the court ruling should have been implemented by the sala’s sheriff, not by Balayman on his own act in assuming office.   

Torreon said Balayman’s office assumption was illegal because he was not given a COR by the MILG.

Balayman in separate video-recorded interviews claimed that the MILG has no supervision authority over LGUs in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, saying such power belongs to the national government through the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

He also claimed having the recognition of DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

But lawyer Torreon argued that Balayman was inconsistent in his argument because he had requested the MILG to issue him a COR.

MILG Minister Naguib Sinarimbo had disclosed having rejected Balayman’s request for COR pending resolution of the Comelec’s injunction order.

Thursday’s fateful incident was the second time that the governor accompanied Balayman to hold office, with the backing of several civilian supporters alongside police and military contingents. (AGM)

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