By Carolyn O. Arguillas, MindaNews and VERA Files
MARAWI CITY – It was his first visit to the province of Lanao del Sur in his nearly three-year old administration and he was supposed to have campaigned for his “Team PNoy” – the Liberal Party candidates for the Senate, the province and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – but the message he wanted to deliver could hardly be understood due to technical problems.
Inside the jampacked Provincial Capitol Gym here on Monday noon, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III addressed a sea of yellow – supporters in mostly yellow shirts, yellow kumbongs (veils), yellow caps and yellow campaign fans – in a 31-minute speech parts of which were in Maranao. But there must have been something wrong with the sound system at the podium from where he spoke or the President was too far away from the two microphones.
“Naririnig ko siya pero di ko maintindihan,” (I can hear him but I cannot understand), a supporter seated midway from the stage and the last row, said.
It was difficult to comprehend what the President was saying. A number of persons could be heard conversing with each other instead of listening to the President. Most just took a cue from those who could hear him up front, clapping when they did, cheering when they did.
Worse, the President’s speech, supposed to be aired live by DXSO Radyo ng Bayan Marawi and fed to Manila live as well, was not aired at all. A radio broadcaster from the station told MindaNews they weren’t able to air live because “all telcos signals inside the gym were disabled.”
“We don’t know why and who ordered the disabling of the signals,” the broadcaster said.
Reporters and the ARMM Information team who covered the President’s earlier activity at the Mindanao State University where he graced the groundbreaking rites for the P45-million Information Technology building got stuck in traffic and were not allowed to enter the gym anymore.
The President went up the stage at 11:19 a.m. for the “President Benigno S. Aquino III meeting with local leaders and the community,” spoke for 31 minutes, from 11:42 a.m. to 12:13 noon, and had a seven-minute photo session raising hands of candidates for various posts. He left the stage at 12:20 noon.
Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong, Jr. opened his speech at 11:20 a.m. by saying it was the President’s first visit and that even if he was not able to campaign for himself here in the 2010 polls, Lanao del Sur delivered a landslide victory for him.
Adiong narrated how the province has been consistently supporting the Aquinos, and how the President’s father who exposed the Jabidah Massacre, was “tunay na tagapagtanggol ng mga Muslim” (true defender of the Muslims). Just as he was talking about how the President’s mother, the former President Corazon Aquino, supported Muslims, the electricity went off at 11:30 a.m.
The power outage took 34 seconds. Within that period, the President was whisked off the stage by the Presidential Security Group.
OIC ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman told MindaNews in a text message Monday night that “before the brownout, plan na talaga palabas for practice Maranao nya” (it was already planned that he would go out to practice his Maranao).
The President returned onstage at 11:41 a.m., after Hataman’s speech.
No senatorial bets
None of the President’s 12 senatorial bets was with the President. Only four candidates sent representatives: Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel sent his brother Jac; former Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., sent his son, Francisco; Paolo Benigno Aquino sent his wife Maria Fatima; and Risa Hontiveros sent his nephew, Luis who ended his speech by dancing to the tune of Hontiveros’ campaign jingle.
The President was accompanied by Transportation and Communication Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, and Senator Franklin Drilon.
Adiong told the crowd that the Aquino administration has given the province “over P400-million” in projects.
He assured Hataman of the province’s support.
“Buo ang aming supporta kay Mujiv Hataman,” (We give our full support to Mujiv Hataman), he said.
Hataman, who lost his bid to become governor of Basilan in 2010, is running for the five-province, two-city ARMM, against former Sultan Kudarat Governor Pax Mangudadatu and Moro National Liberation Front founder and former ARMM Governor Nur Misuari.
Hataman’s running mate is Adiong’s cousin, Haroun Alrashid Alonto Lucman, former ARMM Local Governments Secretary.
Hataman refered to Adiong as “campaign manager ko” and said he was sure that with Adiong around, there would be a landslide victory for the Liberal party candidates for senate, the ARMM and the province.
“Tunay na tuwid”
He said in past elections, no President of this country came down to their areas to campaign for genuine reform. What past administrations did, he noted, was to call for the leaders and dictate to them what the Palace wants.
Hataman said the President and the Liberal Party would not dictate on them because they believe that “tayo ang tunay na tuwid dito sa ARMM” (we are on the right path here in ARMM).
In Pilipino, Hataman said: “There is now genuine reform in the elections here in the ARMM, unlike in the past when the crooked ways were made more crooked, the losers were made winners. But now, our victory is genuine, the President is here – we are really on the right path in the coming elections.”
Hataman narrated how ARMM was “kinamumuhian” (despised) by the nation because allegedly, there were no real elections in the ARMM, only the leaders were voting, and the elections were just about money.
Next month’s election, he said, will be “tuwid na halalan.”
Hataman said he would be happy if he won “dahil sa tunay na boto” (because of genuine vote) and would rather not win if the means to get the vote is questionable.
He spoke of “tunay na reporma” (genuine reform) in the ARMM, of how the impossible had become possible.
“Saan po tayo pupunta?” (where will we go?), he asked the crowd. Would the people want someone who has proven his worth or those who are just coming in “now that the ARMM has been reformed.”
“Tayo ang nagsakripisyo. Tayo ang nagtanim. Tayo ang nag-ani. Tayo ang nagsaing ngayon may biglang pumasok sa ARMM …” (We sacrificed. We planted. We harvested. We cooked. Now someone will come into the ARMM….
“Dito tayo sa subok. Dito tayo sa tunay na daan” (Let’s go for the tested. Let’s go for the right path),” Hataman said as his supporters at the bleachers cheered “Hataman, Lucman.”
First time, last time
It will be the first time in the 23-year history of the ARMM that election of a new set of officials is synchronized with national and local elections. It is also supposed to be the last ARMM election as the government had signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro.” The new entity will replace the ARMM.
The ARMM officials elected this year will not complete their three-year terms because the ARMM will be abolished as soon as the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is set up. Both government and the MILF hope this will be set up in late 2014 or early 2015.
Speaking in Maranao, President Aquino urged the crowd to vote for the Liberal Party. “Kayo ang susi” (You are the key), he said.
No copy of the President’s speech was made available. Hataman said he has no copy of the speech. The Presidential Communications Operations Office made no report about it on its website. It is not also available in the Official Gazette website.
In his speech, the President introduced his candidates, talked briefly about the reforms going on in the ARMM, claimed there are no more “ghost schools,” “ghost teachers,” “ghost students” but “tunay na paaralan, tunay na ospital” (real schools, real hospitals).
He spoke about the projects in the province and cited the peace process as well.
But only a few in the crowd could hear him loud and clear.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews and I-Watch. It is supported by The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)