Religious, political and cultural differences among the populace may have played a part, too, but deeper than these factors are clan feuds that started decades or even centuries ago.
As such, rido—the Maranao term for clan feuds—is considered a very serious problem in the south too, because besides endless deaths among the warring factions, it also causes destruction of infrastructure and property, displaces families and inhabitants, and cripples local and regional economies.
Indeed, no business can prosper in such dire conditions. Development only comes in trickles as investors and entrepreneurs avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
The incidence of rido is strongest in the two Lanao provinces, Maguindanao and Sulu. Zooming in on a remote municipality in Lanao del Norte, The Sunday Times Magazine’s subject today is a man caught between the fight of his maternal and paternal families.
“A cousin of mine from my father’s side was killed by a cousin from my mother’s side. I had to do something or else magkakaubusan ng lahi sa father side at sa mother side ko [all my relatives on both sides would perish],” Nunungan Mayor Marcos Maguindanao Mamay began his story.
With a recorded population of 18,367 based on the 2015 census, Nunungan is a municipality with numerous abandoned houses. Less than half of that number actually lives in the strife-strewn inland town today.
Apparently, Nunungan’s populace find living along the shores of Kapatagan more practical than trudging their way for five hours through a 15-kilometer rocky road covered with three-inch dust that becomes sticky mud when it rains.
Town native Mamay, who is called Marc by his friends, was fortunate enough to go to school despite the hardships of life. He passed the rigorous selection of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 2004 in 1999, while pursuing a degree in Accountancy at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT).
According to Mamay, he decided to grab the opportunity to be schooled in the disciplinarian institution but had to take a medical leave after a year, unfortunately he was unable to go back to PMA. He returned to MSU-IIT instead and finished Business Economics. He was awarded Most Outstanding Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year by his alma mater.
The mid-2000s saw the worsening situation of rido in Lanao, prompting then 23-year-old Mamay to write President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, concerned over the land he calls home.
Arroyo promptly dispatched a military contingent to the province with whom the concerned citizen immediately forged ties. His rapport with the commanders and officers from the Philippine Military Academy astonished Mamay’s townmates and his brilliance and influence soon became famous across the province.
Because of his actions, several rido settlements were immediately achieved, including that of his relatives. More than 20 clan feuds were resolved through Mamay’s mediation soon after, a number that grew to 30 since he assumed Nunungan’s mayoralty.
While Christianity is rife with beatitudes like, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God,” and from the Talmud, “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace,” the Holy Qur’an, according to Mamay enjoins, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
That said, he declared, “Living in peace should be the goal of human existence.”
The 13th child among 15 siblings, Mamay had to endure poverty and even hunger in his determination to finish college.
“I had to be content wearing the worn out uniforms of my older brother. Every grain of rice we ate came from the sweat of my parents from farming. My father was not the type who would sell his land so his children can go to school, so I worked my way to college being a student assistant,” he related.
His hard work further made him a grantee of Professor Sylvia Carpio Scholarship Program and student worker under MSU-IIT’s Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES)—a consistent dean’s lister at that.
“There were nights when I had to sleep on an empty stomach, even if it wasn’t Ramadan, just to save on money to pay for my boardinghouse,” he continued. He was also encumbered by the responsibility of early fatherhood at the same time.
But with the enterprising Maranao blood running through his veins, Mamay, also known as Hadji Alinur among Moros, set up his own businesses after a few years with Del Monte Philippines as production analyst, and thereafter at Pepsi Cola, both in Cagayan de Oro City where he decided to raise his family.
As his businesses under the company All-In-One Enterprise grew, his influence in the community also expanded. He became executive adviser of the Muslim Youth Council in the whole province and the Muslim Student Organization at Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS)—considered one of the biggest secondary institutions in the country with 15,000 students —where his children go to school.
He was also elected president of the school’s Federated Muslim Parents Association, chairman of the Cagayan de Oro Market City Traders Association, president of the Muslim-Christian Alliance for Peace and Development in the Philippines, president of Union of Muslim Organizations in the Philippines, and president of MOGCHS General Parent-Teachers’ Association.
Incidentally, his daughters Ainnah and Alliah graduated from junior high school earlier this month, while his son Khalid will enter the fifth grade at the opening of classes in June.
In the midst of his achievements, however, Mamay related, “I felt the discrimination for my beliefs when at an event they got to know I’m a Muslim because I did not eat pork. I heard comments na ‘Muslim pala ang ating presidente.’ Yet everyone also knew it was only under my term that there had been no corruption committed nor questions about how the budget was expended, unlike previous and succeeding leaderships na maraming anomalies,” he averred.
Eager to make life better for his town and province mates, Mamay wrote to President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2015 appealing for national government help to construct a road connecting Nunungan to Sapad and Sultan Naga Dimaporo—the adjacent towns linked to one of the province’s major hubs. His letter was passed on to concerned agencies and was approved as a P900-million priority development project.
Even without prior political experience—not even as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officer or barangay councilor —Mamay said he was pushed into government service by his supporters in the 2016 elections.
With then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte still undecided to run for president, Mamay filed his candidacy as an independent. Duterte’s party, PDP Laban, later adopted him as official candidate, making him the only one among the 22 municipalities of Lanao del Norte who ran under Duterte’s machinery. He won, beating the incumbent who had been entrenched in the mayoral seat for 30 years.
“I firmly believe that development is the new language of peace, as what Mahatma Gandi said. It is for this reason that I founded organizations sponsoring local and national initiatives aiming to improve the economic situation and as avenues that promote a culture of peace among the young,” he said.
As such, Mamay is the founding president of the United Muslim Association in the Philippines as well as the United Masibay Association (UMA-International), an organization covering various barangays in three municipalities of Lanao del Norte geared to resolve peace and order, provide livelihood programs and scholarships to poor but deserving students, foster stronger kinship among Muslim constituents, and at strengthening Islamic values and beliefs.
Barely a year into office, Mamay’s unprecedented work to develop his town is already felt and seen. Illegal logging has stopped, hospital construction and road works have already commenced, and the groundwork for electrification is already being laid. He also secured an ambulance from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Moreover, he has successfully defended his proposals for water supply with the municipal government to shoulder majority of the share of each household; and the construction of new school buildings and municipal gym. He is also looking into strawberry farming in Nunungan discovering that its soil quality and climate is comparable to La Trinidad in Benguet.
Mamay achieved all the above while sacrificing his masteral studies in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
On March 22, Presidential Adviser for Peace Process Jesus Dureza, accompanied by his Undersecretary Ronald Flores, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretaries Philip Camara and Jojo Andot, and DENR Region 10 director Edwin Andot (representing Secretary Gina Lopez) visited Nunungan by helicopter.
In his speech, Dureza asked if the workers in the town were assured safety so development can finally come to the depressed municipality. Mamay responded positively and with confidence, and his constituents believe him.
“I want to bring change not only to my hometown and home province but possibly to the rest of Mindanao, and maybe the whole country as well. I know that those who left Nunungan will come back when the roads are built and they will be assured of livelihood with no fear of getting killed or hurt in crossfires between warring clans,” he vowed.
This early, many see Mamay gaining prominence and predicting that he will go beyond Nunungan as a leader. Naturally, his detractors are threatened by such reactions, so that he regularly receives warnings on his life, ultimatums, and phony appeals.
During this interview in Quezon City, Mamay in fact had to deal with text messages and calls on his cellphone from an unlisted number, asking him to wire a huge amount of money for wounded rebels that needed immediate attention and medication.
As worrisome as these are, Mamay told The Sunday Times Magazine that his safety is incomparable to that of his people.
“So I just keep on with my work,” he smiled.
The mayor’s townmates have vowed to keep voting for Mamay until he finishes his three allowable terms as Mayor.
“My immediate goal is to finish the roads, build the school buildings, develop sustainable agriculture, 100-percent electrification at least within the town proper with water supply for households, irrigation for farmlands and probably get a commendation from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) through the Seal of Good Governance because of these,” Mamay enthused.
Indeed, as long as he sustains the same fervor and passion that won his constituents’ trust, they also believe it will not be long until another full-blooded Moro will follow the footsteps of Mamintal Tamano and Santanina Rasul in the legislature.
Mamay, however, would rather not think too far into the future, insisting that there is much work to be done in Nunungan.
“That would be too much … but as we Muslims always say, ‘Inshallah’ or God willing …” Mayor Mamay ended with a smile.