With men in jail, the wives rule

Ayee Macaraig

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MANILA, Philippines—The Maguindanao massacre put six prominent male Ampatuans behind bars, all of them with experience in politics. This left the business of holding public office to a new set of family members—the women.

Records from the Commission on Elections and MindaNews report show the women ensured continuity in the family’s political clout in Maguindanao.

Johaira “Bongbong” Midtimbang-Ampatuan, the wife of suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, won as mayor of Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town in the 2010 election. Their eldest daughter Noraila was elected councilor of the same town.

In Datu Unsay town, the wife of prime suspect Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. is mayor. Reshal Santiago-Ampatuan is the first wife of Unsay.

The Ampatuan bailiwick of Shariff Aguak has Zahara Upam-Ampatuan as mayor. She is the wife of Anwar Ampatuan Sr., brother of Zaldy and Unsay, and former mayor of the town.

The wife of another Ampatuan brother is mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town. Zandria Sinsuat-Ampatuan is married to Sajid, the youngest son of patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Soraida Biruar-Ampatuan is vice mayor of Parang town. She is the widow of Saudi, another son of Andal Sr.

A family insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said the women took the detention of their husbands as an opportunity to hone their skills in politics. It remains to be seen though if they can emulate the political savvy of Andal Sr. and their husbands.

The source said that the towns held by the women and other relatives have the potential to be a strong political bloc but they have to work together. He said the ties among the incumbent Ampatuan leaders are not cohesive.

“Working together will be defined by a new political exercise, let’s say the forthcoming elections [in 2013]. That is how you will see if they can work together.”

The same source said prior to the massacre, Andal Sr. established a monolithic power structure in Maguindanao. No one has assumed the role of clan political leader but there is speculation of a ploy to get Zaldy out of prison to fill the vacuum. (Read: The Ampatuans: Is the rift real?) 

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