When a kingmaker wants to be king

Edwin G. Espejo

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Tucao Mastura has always been known as the kingmaker, the patriarch of a political clan. Now he's out to unseat a former ally, Maguindanao Gov Esmael Mangudadatu

MASS SUPPORT? Sultan Kudarat Mayor Tucao Mastura leads a rally in Buldon, Maguindanao. Photo by Cocoy Sexcion

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Still brimming with pride after shocking Maguindanao with a huge election rally on April 27, gubernatorial candidate and Sultan Kudarat Mayor Tucao Mastura refuses to stay complacent in his campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. 

On April 29, he was in the remote village of Dinganen in Buldon where, if their head count is correct, almost half of the town’s total qualified voters turned up in another big opposition rally. (The crowd head count was announced at exactly 6,836. Buldon has around 14,000 qualified voters)

In 1971, Buldon was the scene of one of the fiercest gun battles between the dreaded Christian cult group Ilaga and Moro rebels who were then still trying to find their identity as a revolutionary force. It again became a flashpoint at the height of the all-out war waged by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and during the violence in 2008 following the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between both sides.

Dinganen is the last Buldon village, next to the predominantly Christian village of Payong-Payong in Pigkawayan town of Cotabato province. Majority of Muslim residents in Dinganen are Iranun like Mastura who hails from the town Sultan Kudarat (not to be mistaken with the province of Sultan Kudarat)

On April 29, Ilonggos casually mixed with their Muslim neighbors and fellow villagers, unmindful of their storied animosity in the past but constantly being reminded that lasting peace remains elusive. Many, though, are looking forward to the final peace accord being mapped out by the the government and MILF peace panels. 

The 67-year-old Mastura comes from a family of well-educated professionals. He is a certified public account and his brother Michael Mastura is a lawyer and was a two-term member of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995. His brother Rauf is also mayor of the town of Sultan Mastura.

AGAINST THE INCUMBENT. Gubermatorial candidate Tucao Mastura. Photo by Cocoy SexcionTucao Mastura has always been known as the kingmaker, the patriarch of a political clan. Now he’s out in the open. “I have been a kingmaker especially in my district,” he says. The situation now that he’s the one running for the province’s top post is “too much different.” He explains: “Iba yung kingmaker ka kasi you can do everything.  Samantala ito maingat ka baka may magawa kang ma-disqualify ka.” (A kingmaker can do anything. But a candidate has to be careful and avoid doing things that might disqualify him.)

He accuses Mangudadatu of threatening opponents with legal action if not bodily harm.  

Read: Mangudadatu’s biggest challenge

He claims that the day after he and Mangudadatu signed a covenant for a non-violent election campaign, a grenade was thrown at the house of his mayoral candidate in the town where the governor’s brother is the incumbent and re-electionist mayor.

Mastura however has not escaped allegations of physically eliminating an opponent.

He was suspected to have masterminded, along with his nephew Maguindanao Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura, the assassination of Barira Vice Mayor Alexander Tomawis in Davao City in November 2010. (Dustin Mastura is now running for assemblyman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)

A murder case was filed against the Masturas and 9 others, but the complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence. 

Two of those named in the complaint were later killed in an ambush in Parang town in January 2012.

Mastura says the witness who earlier accused them of masterminding the murder of Tomawis has since recanted his statement and is asking for the help of the gubernatorial candidate as people were reportedly out to kill him.

Despite the accusations, Mastura says they will not resort to violence and will honor the covenant he signed with Mangudadatu earlier this year. “Violence will not begin with us,” he says in his deep raspy voice even as he emphasizes that the Iranun tribe are the fierce warriors of Sultan Kudarat, a national hero who resisted colonial invasions from the Spanish and American governments.  

He vows to bring the provincial capitol back to Semuay in Sultan Kudarat.

When detained Andal Ampatuan Sr. became governor of Maguindanao, he transferred the provincial capitol to his hometown Sharif Aguak. The imposing monument of Ampatuan’s profligate rule is now home to the Philippine Army battalion after Gov. Mangudadatu decided to hold office in Buluan.

Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura says Mangdadatu is using deceit and bribery. The younger Mastura also warned that his uncle’s opponents will use their resources to win the election. “Total lokohan naman ito, tanggapin niyo and pera pero huwag sila isulat sa balota,” the vice governor told the crowd in their Buldon rally. (This is simply a game: get their money but don’t vote for them.) Ironically, his uncle — like Mangudadatu — also tried to give us an envelope obviously filled with money after the interview. We politely declined.

The Sultan Kudarat mayor (not to be confused with Sultan Kudarat Province) claims he has the support of the big clans in Maguindanao — the Mastura, the Baragirs, the Matalams, the Pendatuns, the Mangelens, Paglas and the Sinsuats. All except for the Paglases are from the heavily populated first district of Maguindanao. 

Mangudadatu however has enlisted a Sinsuat for his vice governor, and he laughs off Mastura’s claims. (Read: Mangudadatu’s biggest challenge)

The large Iranun community, found in the towns of Barira, Matanog, Buldon and Parang, is also reportedly backing Mastura. “Sultan Mastura and Sultan Kudarat towns are 65-percent Iranun,” Mastura further claims. In Buldon town, Mastura had to speak in Tagalog to allow the Ilonggos and the Maguindanaons (Midtimbang is a Maguindanaon) to understand his speech.

He later said that 5 of the 9 re-electionist town mayors in the first district with whom Mangudadatu had politically reconciled are going to lose to the candidates that he is fielding.  

He is also confident the Midtimbangs would be able to deliver in all the 9 towns where an Ampatuan is either the mayor or vice mayor. All 9 Ampatuan-controlled towns are incidentally in the second district were Gov. Mangudadatu lost in the 2010 elections. 

Read: 74 Ampatuans running in May.

The province has 36 towns, the most in Mindanao.

Below are excerpts from our interview with Mastura on April 29:

Rappler: Everybody knows you supported Gov Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu in the 2010 elections and asked your nephew (Vice Gov. Dustin Mastura) to be his running mate. What happened? 

Mastura: Actually, it was he who left (the alliance). Dahil siguro sa pangako niya sa tao na hindi natupad – that is returning back the (provincial) capitol dito sa Sultan Kudarat because this is the legal site of the capitol. I was then his campaign manager. Hanggang  sa umabot na hindi niya na ako sinasagot sa celfone mag-text ako, magtawag. And then na-reconcile siya doon  sa…kasi siyam ‘yung mga kalaban namin dito sa distrito ko na mayors. Dalawa lang kami ng kapatid ko. So nag-reconcile sila at hindi niya na kami sinasali sa mga meeting niya. Hindi niya naalaala na nanalo siya dito (first District) and natalo siya sa distrito niya. Nanalo siya dito na ang kalaban niya ay si Sinsuat who is from the first district.

(He left the alliance probably because of his unfulfilled promises, such as the transfer of the provincial capitol back to Sultan Kudarat. He stopped taking my calls and responding to my text messages. And then he reconciled with our rival mayors. He forgets that he won in this district and he lost in his own. And he won here even if his opponent then was a Sinsuat.)

Rappler: Now he is with the Sinsuats.

Mastura: Yes.

Rappler: And in turn you are in alliance with the Midtimbangs who are identified with the Ampatuans? (Editor’s note: Mastura’s running mate is Talayan Mayor Ali Midtimbang, father-in-law of detained former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. Zaldy’s wife, Johaira Midtimbang-Ampatuan is the incumbent and re-electionist mayor of Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town)

Mastura: Yes. But you know, alam mo naman yung mga Ampatuans, whether sino man ang mga kandidato diyan (against Mangudadatu) kahit monkey pa ang ilagay niyo diyan ay duon sila boboto. So this time around…well…this is…kuwan…na ito ng tadhana na ganun ang mangyayari.

(You know the Ampatuans. They will support anyone who will run against Mangudadatu, even a monkey. So this time around…it’s fate that this happened.)

RALLY. A campaign rally for Tucao Mastura. Photo by Cocoy Sexcion

Rappler: But the governor is your nephew… 

Mastura:  Distant. Very distant.

Rappler: You mentioned Al Hadj Murad during the (Buldon) rally? What about Murad?

Mastura: Actually, the central committee of the movement finally (and) officially endorsed me because after studying both candidates ako ang nakita nilang talagang sincere and real supporter of the Framework Agreement (on Bangsamoro). (Editor’s note: Mastura however later told reporters that the MILF is not supporting him)

Rappler: And Camp Darapanan is located in Sultan Kudarat…

Mastura: And, yes, especially Camp Darapanan is in my municipality.

Rappler: And Dr. Michael Mastura is with the MILF. 

Mastura: Yes, my brother is a lawyer of the MILF.

Rappler: If you win, what happens to Gov. Toto?

Mastura: Well, I don’t know what will happen to him. Probably he will have a lot of cases. Especially yung case na na-file na sa Ombudsman. That is for unexplained wealth. Pero, (personally) hindi ako magpa-file ng case. I have nothing…against him. (I will not personally file a case against him.)

Read: The wealth of Gov Toto

Rappler: The way you described your nephew suggests that he has changed. What made him change? 

Mastura: Talagang malaki na ang pinagbago niya. Mataas na masyado siya. Cannot be reached. Always in Manila. You cannot find him in his office. You always find him in Manila with actresses. Lavish spending on cars na nakakalula.  

Rappler: So you are confident of winning? 

Mastura: God willing. – Rappler.com

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