COTABATO CITY – Amid calls by President Benigno Aquino III for peace and solidarity with Muslim Filipinos in the advent of the Islamic fasting Month of Ramadhan, Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said he would start in August holding office in Shariff Aguak, the provincial government seat and hometown of his political rival – the Ampatuan clan.
"I will hold office in Shariff Aguak starting next month…. We've prepared for that," Mangudadatu said at a recent press conference in his hometown of Buluan.
Mangudadatu's announcement came before President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay issued separate statements greeting all Muslims at the start of Ramadhan and urging local officials to fortify peace and amity-building efforts in the southern Philippines, including Maguindanao.
The Sangguniang Panalalawigan passed a resolution setting the transfer of the provincial legislative office to the old capitol complex in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat town, from its temporary space inside the nearby municipal government seat.
Presiding Vice Governor Ismael Mastura subsequently asked Gov. Mangudadatu to transfer also his office to the same compound in Sultan Kudarat, citing a decree of then President Marcos in 1970s that fixed the provincial seat at such municipality.
But some lawyers instead advised Mangudadatu to hold office in the old capitol complex in Shariff Aguak town (formerly known as Maganoy), which they said was named as an official seat by the Batasang Pambansa (BP) through an amendatory law passed in 1982.
The same BP law was invoked by now detained former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. in erecting a modern provincial capitol complex adjacent to their residential area in Shariff Aguak in 2003.
Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and some relatives in the 2009 massacre in Maguindanao that killed 57 people including 32 media practitioners, has been holding office in Buluan town upon his election in 2010 for security reasons.
More than 190 people, including former Gov. Ampatuan Sr. and some of his children, have been indicted and detained for the massacre.
In past interviews, the incumbent governor had stated that while he was espousing reconciliatory stance with his political rivals, the wheel of justice must take its "due course" in the court's acquisition of jurisdiction over the suspects in the 2009 massacre.
In his speech at the July 18 inauguration of the Rajah Buiayan Silongan Peace Center (RBSPC) in Buluan, Mangudadatu said he had opted to hold temporary office in his hometown for security reasons and to avoid unnecessary act of provocation that could disrupt his efforts for peace and development in Maguindanao.
"I will hold office in Shariff Aguak weekly starting next month," he said, declining though to give details of his planned transfer.
However, he said he would retain his "satellite office" in Buluan, particularly at the newly-completed peace center. — Mark B. Navales /LBG, GMA News