BULUAN, Maguindanao, Philippines--Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife, two sisters, relatives and supporters in the Maguindanao massacre last Nov. 23, made a last-ditch appeal to voters in the province to finally overthrow the long reign of the Ampatuan dynasty through the ballot.
The Ampatuan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., his sons and several other relatives have been accused of masterminding the massacre of 57 people, including 31 journalists, who were just accompanying a convoy of Mangudadatu relatives and supporters to file his certificate of candidacy for governor.
Mangudadatu has been warning voters in the province that if one of his two opponents win, ?the ills and evils of Ampatuans will reign again.?
Mangudadatu is pitted against Guindulungan Mayor Midpantao Midtimbang, father-in-law of suspended Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Mayor Ombra Sinsuat of Datu Odin Sinsuat town, a known ally of the Ampatuans. (Zaldy is among the several Ampatuans detained for the Maguindanao massacre.)
?And you have seen what they were capable of,? Mangudadatu said referring to the massacre that happened in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer followed Mangudadatu and traveled with his convoy in the final days of the campaign.
In areas he visited, Mangudadatu repeated the warning amid a sea of green-clad people ? mostly youth.
?Ang pagbabago ay darating sa aking pamumuno (Change will come with my leadership),? he said here Saturday.
Mangudadatu said it was time for Maguindanao to have a different kind of governance ? far from the iron-hand employed by the Ampatuans - "where the people are masters and the elected their public servants.?
Mangudadatu admitted that his fight against the Ampatuans has become personal.
He said he wanted to end the ?evils? of the clan.
?My fight is personal. I am against Ampatuan?s atrocities. But I don?t want to go to hell. I will never retaliate. It will be ok if I die in this fight as I am ready to die to fight. I will never kill. I cannot do that, only they can do that?buhay pa, tinalian na at inilibing ng buhay. Hindi ko kaya (They tied and buried their victims alive. I cannot do that),? he said.
Ebra Macarimbang, 70, a native of Barira town, said: ?I have not seen progress around.?
?Now that I?m old, I?d like to do something so my grandchildren can see change here. I don?t want them to see the present system. I believe that with Mangudadatu, the future is bright, the one that I dreamt of when I was younger,? he said.
For many Maguindanao residents the Inquirer talked with, Mangudadatu was their last hope.
But in Shariff Aguak, the heart of the province, residents worried that the elections would still be dominated by the Ampatuans and their allies. Nevertheless, hope somehow wrestled with fear.
?The thought that I could vote for whoever I want to this time offers me some sort of freedom,? a restaurant owner said.