Some of the protesters in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Fidayen Ramos)
MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / 30 May) – Muslim villagers on Wednesday have threatened to stage more street rallies to protest what they say is “undue” allegations that there was massive cheating in the recently held national and local polls.
On Tuesday, more than 20,000 Muslims from across the province held an indignation rally and condemned the opposition for tagging Maguindanao as an area where fraud and cheating had catapulted President Gloria Arroyo’s 12 senatorial candidates in the polls.
Opposition bets have failed to gather enough votes in Maguindanao.
“We supported our leaders and the President and our supports spelled victory for all the TEAM Unity senatorial candidates,” Hakim Abubakar, a farmer, told the independent regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.
Abubakar said his family voted straight for the TEAM Unity after the governor of the province, Andal Ampatuan, and his son, Zaldy, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), appealed for their support.
“It was a vote of confidence to the datus, the “knights in shining armor” of the Lakas-Christian, Muslim Democrats,” said another party leader, Hashim Lisondra.
He said they would go to street again if the opposition continues to accuse the Muslims of cheating in the polls.
Ustadz Farid Solaiman, chief of the ARMM Madaris Education Bureau, said the gathering of voters at the provincial capitol was also a “tacit indication” of a strong belief by ethnic Maguindanaons to religious teachings espousing “obedience” to leaders.
Solaiman said it is the verse in the Koran, “atiy Allah, wah atiy or rasul wa umil amri ingkom’ (obey Allah, obey the Messenger (Prophet Mohammad) and obey those who lead over you) that catalyzes the political solidarity of the datus in Maguindanao, a known hotbed of Islamic militancy.
“Of course, this political solidarity comes through the concept of shura, or consultation among the people the datus lead,” Solaiman said in a separate interview.
Organizers of the rally, which lasted for five hours, denounced what they described as “classic stereotyping” of the Moro voters in Maguindanao with allegations there was cheating in the province in favor of the Team Unity senatorial ticket during the May 14 polls.
All of Maguindanao’s 22 mayors, almost all of them virtually unopposed during the elections, joined the rally together with thousands of supporters.
“So immense was the show of support to us that if we allow all of our followers to come along, shops will close in the town centers, flow of traffic in the province will stop for the whole duration of the rally,” said Mayor Shamer Uy of Datu Piang, Maguindanao’s oldest town.
The elder Ampatuan, who is also chairman of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat party in Maguindanao, said he cannot understand why the opposition simply cannot accept the reality that as early as 2004, all of his constituent-mayors already declared the province as “GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) country” to project their patronage of Malacañang as a “center” of government power.
Ampatuan said that during the 2004 Presidential and national elections, mayors in the province gave some 200,000 votes for Arroyo, with her closest rival, movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr., trailing far behind with only more than 60,000 votes.
Ampatuan drew a long applause from the protesters when he said in jest that while he was an avid fan of Poe, he did not support his bid for the presidency for fear he could no longer appear in the movies once elected president.
“I want to see more of his action films. He was a good actor and was so loved by the Moros for his being an actor. Letting him sit in Malacañang as president would also mean an end to his acting career,” Ampatuan said.
Sulu’s newly-elected governor, Sakur Tan, said the opposition should learn to accept defeat in Moro communities, which are known for a strong “block” voting tradition.
Tan and Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali, both political allies of the Ampatuans, agreed one reason for the overwhelming loss of the opposition senatorial candidates in many areas in the ARMM is the absence political leaders that openly campaigned for them.
“Campaigning for opposition senatorial candidates in the ARMM would be like selling costly water in sealed containers to the people dwelling in the surroundings of the vast Lake Lanao where water supply is free,” Tan said. (Fidayen Ramos)