The Muslims in the Crossroad of the Clash of Political Titans in General Santos City

The Outside View

By Judge Panambulan “Bing” Mimbisa (ret.)

The city of General Santos is at the southernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago. It is even farther in distance coming from Manila than going to Hongkong but it is nearer to Manado, Indonesia with which it maintains sporadic trade partnership. It used to be part of the so-called Cotabato Empire before its subdivision into fine provinces, now six after the creation of the new province of Maguindanao Oriental.

The city is host to one of the royal houses of the province, Rajah Buyaan and its principalities which constitute a major and respected component of the cultural structure and heritage of Maguindanao.

There is a wealth of prognosis that given the right policy direction and development programs, General Santos is ready to take a major pivotal role in the over-all efforts to catapult the country in the ranks of industrialized nations of the world similar to Singapore as the next destination hub of foreign and local business and capitalist.

In this growing, metropoles there are about ten to fifteen percent Muslims of its total population of 700,000 more or less. Consequently, they, constitute as much a percentage in its number of electorates.

These Muslims are now caught in the crossroad of the clash of the political bigwigs in General Santos City.

For years, politics in General Santos had been dominated by such political stalwarts as the Antoninos and the Acharons. There was only one brief time in their fabled dominance which was interjected by the election of the first lady mayor and political neophyte, Rosalita Nunez in 1988 to 1992. Of late, however, some names would emerge to seriously challenge and possibly change the political landscape as the Riveras under the tutelage of their patriarch business tycoon Don Rodrigo Rivera and son now Mayor of the city Ronel C. Rivera. There is also the Banasis then jonnily under the wings of brothers Dodo and Rufino Banas and the Pacquiao clan of course under the baton of the eight divisions world champion, Senator Emmanuel M. Pacquiao. Except for the Antoninos who decided to temporarily take a break from actively participating in politics, all the other families are well politically entrenched with each of them holding positions of power and influence in government.

The Acharons are represented by Lawyer Loreto Acharon who is the present vice-mayor of the city and before him is former congressman Jun or Pedro Acharon Jr. The Banas family are now carried on her shoulder by congresswoman Shirlyn Banas-Nograles of the 1st District of South Cotabato following the demise of her father Dodo and uncle lawyer Rufino Banas. The Riveras are under the comfort of Mayor Ronel C. Rivera of General Santos City and the Pacquiaos at the helm of which is Senator Manny Pacquiao.

In this coming May 9, 2022 elections, the Antoninos are fielding Broadcaster and Pharmaceutical magnate Elmer Catulpos for the mayoral post. He will square off with incumbent South Cotabato 1st District Congresswoman Shirlyn Banas-Nograles and Kagawad Lorelei Pacquiao. As for the congressional seat incumbent Mayor Ronel C. Rivera will face the incumbent Vice Mayor Lawyer Ton-ton Acharon. This will be exciting.

These candidates will vie for the vote of the 320,000 registered electorates of the city a measly 10 percent of which are Muslim voters. Very clearly, this is an insignificant number of votes which cannot determine the victory or defeat of anyone of these candidates, however, if we look at ourelectoral history where a single vote, in fact, even a toss of coin can spell the difference and catapult a candidate to the throne of power, and if we consider further the political acumen and prowess of the Muslim it is not impossible for them to make a candidate win or cause the defeat of the other.

As of this writing and considering the distance of the actual election day, there is yet no clear path where the Muslims votes will swing at the final hour. Suffice to mention that the Muslims are a vibrant and responsible members of society, who keep and uphold the law and contribute, however small, in the city’s economic growth and development. They have built several big and beautiful mosques and medaris or Arabic schools in almost all the 27 barangays in the city. This is of course understandable given that Dadiangas, the former name of the city, is part of the so-called Maguindanao sultanate and as said earlier in this piece, is the seat of Rajah Buayan, one of the pillars of the sultanate.

The city also prides itself of the fact that it is the second home to one of the most decorated Maraanao police officer, General Datu Willie Danggane (ret) who is running for the lone congressional seat of Sarangani province. Following him to the ladder of building a good name in the police establishments are P Colonel Abulkhayr S. Macalangcom regional chief of intelligence of the Philippine National Police 12 and P Major Basher Alinog.

In the field of education, the Muslim atre honored by the installation of Dr. Anshari P. Ali as Chancellor of the Mindanao State University General Santos City campus and of course Dean Maolawi Bong Calimba of the College of Social Science of same University. There are also the ustazes or Islamic teachers and the Ulemas or scholars who are actively engaged in theological dialogues or dawah and education. The city likewise abounds with Muslim businessmen starting off with the sidewalk vendors, the proprietors of used clothings or what we call Ukay-ukay to the big entrepreneurs. On the government and public service side, there is Paro Rusdie Mindalano, and the bunch of senior BIR examiners, ranking Bureau of customs and Bureau of Immigration and deportation officials.

All told, notwithstanding their politically insignificant number, which may not influence the result of a political exercise, an exception thereto maybe made for the Muslims in General Santos who, by their position and standing in the social community can still exert tremendous influence, on the conduct of elections and in determining the final outcome after, the counting of votes. Indeed, the Muslims may not be considered the swing vote, in the strict sense of the word, but each of them individually or taken as a collective group could exert effect in the result of election or to dictate the victory of one and defeat of the other.

These Muslims have adopted General Santos City as their second home precisely because it is here where they have found peace of mind and tranquility and the potential to grow economically. There is a saying that once you see. General Santos City you will be enamored to come back and come back again.

(Philippine Muslim Today)


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