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Duterte meets with military, Mangudadatu on peace-building, dev’t programs

(Philstar.com) - July 23, 2016 - 4:04pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - The tour in Maguindanao on Friday of President Rodrigo Duterte was markedly more of an emotion-filled “family reunion” with soldiers and the ruling Mangudadatu clan in the province than a traditional presidential sortie.

Officers and enlisted personnel of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) gave the president a rousing applause when he praised them for their peace-building programs, complementing the government’s peace overture with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, during a traditional “talk to the men” session in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin town.

The camp is Central Mindanao’s largest military Army installation, where 6th ID’s command base is located and from where its commander, Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, supervises the operations of more than a dozen Army field units scattered in the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and in several towns in Lanao del Sur.

Duterte assured members of 6th ID of Malacañang’s protection as he called on them to help him fight the drug problem besetting the country.

“As long as you are on the right direction, you need not worry because I will protect you,” Duterte told them during the dialogue that lasted for about two hours.

Visayan soldiers present in the dialogue cheered and applauded Duterte each time he quipped and spoke Cebuano in encouraging them to perform their duties efficiently and support the peace process.

Lt. Col. Markton Abo, an ethnic Maguindanaon officer, said Moro soldiers also became emotional when he mentioned his concern for Mindanao’s underdeveloped Muslim communities and his desire for the peace process to succeed.

“It was a very different experience. We’ve hosted the visits of past presidents, but this is something new and so different. He seemed more of a relative to all of us, a blood relative, because of his Maranaw ancestry,” Abo said.

Visayan soldiers broke through the security cordon laid by members of the Presidential Security Group around Duterte to take “selfie” photos with him using their mobile phones, something they have never done before with past presidents.

“His presence in the camp boosted our morale. He is a Mindanaon president who is so friendly to people despite his being known for being so hard on criminals,” a Visayan soldier, Sgt. Dante Dalagan, said in heavy Cebuano accent.

Dalagan said what touched them most was Duterte’s promise to protect them as long as they perform their bounden duty to protect the local communities from hostile aggressions and from criminalities as well.   

Dalagan’s companions, Cpl. Janice Saavedra and Private 1st Class Donna Jane Balladares, were both as elated.

Saavedra, also a Visayan, said Duterte’s commitment to put an end to the Mindanao secessionist conflict were “touching,” expressed in Cebuano and in English, tacitly indicating that he will fail without public support.   

Duterte was accompanied to Maguindanao by his newly-appointed defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, and top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

While in Maguindanao’s provincial capital, Buluan town, Duterte expressed gratitude to Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, his politician-siblings and all local executives for his having won overwhelmingly in the province during the May 9 presidential race.

He hinted that he would not politically persecute local executives in areas where he lost to rivals in the final tally of votes for president during the elections.   

Duterte was in Buluan on Friday after his engagement at Camp Siongco to launch the 4.5-megawatt biomass power plant established jointly by the Mangudadatu clan and a private developer, the Green Earth Enersource Corp.

Duterte, in a message after the symbolic launching of the power plant, to operate using only wastes from oil palm trees, directed impromptu his agriculture secretary, Emmanuel Piñol, to allocate P300 million to sustain the propagation of oil palm trees by peasants in Maguindanao.

The Mangudadatus had helped developed more than 2,000-hectares of contiguous oil palm plantations in the province in the past five years through the provincial government’s continuing seed dispersal program benefiting the local agricultural communities.

Piñol, who accompanied the president to Buluan, said he can immediately facilitate the release of the P300 million allocation once documentary requisites have all been complied with.

Mangudadatu said the assistance will complement his eight-point development agenda, centered on agricultural productivity, normalization in conflict-stricken areas and empowerment of farmers by providing them with free agricultural inputs that are for them so expensive.

“There is no reason now for the Mindanao peace process to fail because we have someone in Malacañang who is a native of Mindanao, who understands the root causes of the Moro issue,” Mangudadatu said.

The Mangudadatus are long-time friends of Duterte, a friendship started by their patriarch, the late Datu Powa, and the president while he was still a neophyte mayor in Davao City.

In fact, the governor and his siblings, Khadafeh, a member of the Regional Assembly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Freddie, who is mayor of Mangudadatu town, talk to the president in fluent Cebuano, which they learned when they studied in schools in Davao City.

Duterte’s top campaigner in Maguindanao during the recent campaign period was Mangudadatu’s younger brother, Ibrahim, most known in the province as “Datu Jong,” a wealthy businessman engaged in agricultural ventures and tilapia propagation projects in the vast Lake Buluan.

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