Maguindanao del Sur

Tension grips Maguindanao del Sur town as leadership crisis worsens

Ferdinandh Cabrera

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Tension grips Maguindanao del Sur town as leadership crisis worsens

TAKE 2. Mohajeran Balayman takes his oath as mayor of Pandag, Maguindanao del Sur, for the second time on Monday, May 15, causing more tension in the town.

courtesy of Mohajeran Balayman

The tension heightens as the Department of Interior and Local Government and BARMM separately recognize the political rivals

MAGUINDANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – Tension gripped the town of Pandag in Maguindanao del Sur again as a politician who asserted that he won the mayoral post in 2022 attempted to take over the municipal government again.

Mohajeran “Odjie” Balayman took his oath of office as mayor of Pandag town before Judge Angelito Razalan of the Municipal Trial Court in Cotabato City on Monday, May 15, an act that worsened his rivalry with 2022 elections commission-proclaimed mayoral race winner Khadafeh “Toy” Mangudadatu.

The tension heightened because the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Bangsamoro’s Ministry of Interior and Local Governance (MILG-BARMM) have separately recognized them.

The rivals’ camps have been engaged in a legal battle since after the May 2022 elections. Mangudadatu was proclaimed the winner by the Commission on Elections last year, but Balayman protested and brought his case to a Regional Trial Court which favored a recount. Both have since filed appeals and counter-appeals.

Balayman claimed that the COMELEC released a final ruling in his favor last May 12, and “I took the oath of office.”

ARGUE. Lawyer Israelito Torreon (left) questions assertions made by Mohajeran Balayman as his client, Khadafeh Mangudadatu, listens. – courtesy of Raffy Reyes

But Khadafeh’s lawyer, Israelito Torreon, said the recent COMELEC en banc resolution did not declare or recognize Balayman as the election winner.

“The problem is that he (Balayman) only attached a certificate of finality and entry of judgment from the en banc resolution. If he can pinpoint in the resolution where it states that he will take the oath as mayor of Pandag, then he is the mayor,” Torreon said.

It was Balayman’s second time taking his oath of office as Pandag mayor. His first attempt to take over the town government was when he took his oath of office before Maguindanao del Sur Governor Mariam Mangudadatu, his political ally.

But two days after his first oath-taking in 2022, an injunction order was issued, preventing him from assuming office.

On Monday, Balayman posted on his Facebook page a document he supposedly obtained from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), signed by DILG Undersecretary Margarita Guttierez, acknowledging him as the duly recognized mayor.

It was a document Balayman was unable to secure from the MILG-BARMM during his initial attempt to assume office after taking the oath before the governor.

“There are higher authorities aside from MILG. They are not the only government agency or official that can issue a certification,” Balayman said.

BARMM Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said his office received a letter from Balayman’s camp on May 12, along with an attached certificate of finality. But he said the supposed final and executory ruling from the COMELEC en banc was not attached.

Sinarimbo criticized the supposed DILG certification in favor of Balayman.

“This is not in accordance with autonomy,” said Sinarimbo, noting that the regional office was not even provided with a copy of it.

Sinarimbo asserted that the DILG has no direct jurisdiction over the local governments of the BARMM.

He wrote to Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr.: “As you may note, supervision over LGUs in the BARMM has been a power delegated both to the former ARMM and the current BARMM. More so, in the case of BARMM, the same is not just contained in the Organic Law but also in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

“Any action therefore that takes back the powers granted to the BARMM is viewed with serious concern by the BARMM Government because it does not only violate the law but the peace agreement as well signed between the Government and the MILF,” read part of the letter.

Tension earlier gripped Pandag town on November 24, 2022, following a commotion inside the municipal hall involving Governor Mangudadatu, Khadafeh’s wife and Vice Mayor Zihan Mangudadatu, and their supporters.

Khadafeh currently holds office in Pandag’s new town hall built using BARMM funds, while Balayman occupies the old municipal building, less than 500 meters apart.

In the weeks before and after the May 2022 elections, a series of killings occurred in the town. A village chair, a COMELEC official, and several civilians, with links to the local election of the town, were killed.

Pandag, an agriculture-dependent town, covers a land area of 85.31 square kilometers and has only eight barangays with approximately 30,000 residents. –

Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

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