Faisal Mangondato’s voice is loudest for Mindanao
(Sixth of a series)
MANILA, Philippines —Presidential candidate Faisal Mangondato is not a crowd drawer. Netizens have chided him for groping for the right words in debates and sit-down interviews.
But his words are among the loudest and his conviction the strongest this election season when he talks about the long-neglected people of Mindanao, especially his Muslim brothers and sisters.
As the country’s first Muslim presidential candidate, he bears a heavy responsibility.
His family was initially against his bid for the presidency, said the 59-year-old candidate who lost when he ran for Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor in 2016, and for senator in 2019.
“At first, my family was afraid. They know that what I am seeking is a very difficult job,” Mangondato told the Inquirer. “But eventually when they saw the acceptance, not only of our Muslim brothers and sisters but [also] from the Christian community, the indigenous peoples…, that’s when they became fully supportive of my decision to run for president.”
Born in the town of Ditsaan-Ramain, Lanao del Sur province, he was raised by his parents in Marawi City. Before joining politics, he was running several businesses, including importing and exporting textiles, pearls and diamonds. He and his wife have 10 children.
Mangondato is running with lawyer Carlos Serapio under the Katipunan ng Kamalayang Kayumanggi party, which backed the “Bayanihan Federalism” constitution drafted by a 22-member consultative committee chaired by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno in 2018.
Among the presidential candidates, he might be the staunchest advocate of federalism with his platform anchored on amending the Constitution and changing the current unitary form of government—which he called a “rotten system”—into a federal setup.
“I would push for the system of federalism, where the government would be the one that would reach out to the people. Because currently, what a leader wants does not happen with the old system. This is the problem of the Constitution, where the old system is already very polluted and our government is really all mixed up,” he said.
For Mangondato, the country’s 17 regions, especially the poorer ones in Mindanao, would prosper under the new form of government as they would have fiscal autonomy to determine which projects and programs would be most beneficial.
Federalism would also help solve poverty, he said, especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the poorest among regions nationwide.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, poverty incidence among families in BARMM stood at 39.4 percent in 2021—far from the nationwide average of 18 percent, or from the National Capital Region’s 5.2 percent.
“With federalism, the provinces in the region will be able to develop. There will be jobs in the region. The people there do not need to leave their families and go as far as Metro Manila, or even become [overseas Filipino workers] in the Middle East to provide for them,” Mangondato said.
If given a chance to govern, one of his first steps would be to compel Congress to adopt the draft federalism charter, something not even President Rodrigo Duterte was able to do despite enjoying the support of the majority in both houses of the legislature.
Another priority for Mangondato would be to rebuild Marawi, a personal issue for him, within his first year in office.
As government forces battled Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in the city in 2017, he stayed behind to guard their house until he was forced to evacuate.
‘Overkill’ in Marawi
His parents, on the other hand, walked for 18 days to seek refuge in the town of Balo-i, where they fell sick and eventually died.
“My parents did not even witness our house in Marawi getting rebuilt,” Mangondato lamented.
He admitted harboring in his heart “anger, resentment and sorrow for my fellow Maranaos,” adding that what happened in the city was “overkill,” with monthslong shelling and strafing reducing the once-vibrant city into rubble.
“I am from Marawi, and I know the sentiments of my Maranao brothers and sisters. I also know how to make their grief and hatred go away,” he said, adding: “There’s no better person to help my Muslim brothers and sisters but a fellow Muslim.”
While he is banking on the support of over 7 million Muslims on May 9, some BARMM officials have endorsed his rivals.
In Mangondato’s home province of Lanao del Sur, 15 mayors have backed Vice President Leni Robredo who also got the historic endorsement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, through its United Bangsamoro Justice Party, on her birthday last month.
The survey front-runner, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., got the support of four governors in BARMM, including Lanao del Sur, and some mayors.
But Mangondato said that what counted was the endorsement of ordinary Muslims he had met in his sorties.
“When I went around BARMM, people were… crying and shouting that finally, the Muslim who will become the next president of the country has come to them,” he said with pride.
He remained hopeful that he would get the support of President Duterte to further his chances of winning since they both share “Bangsamoro blood.”
Duterte has yet to formally endorse any presidential candidate, but the faction he backs in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party has thrown its support behind Marcos Jr., whose running mate is the president’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
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Faisal Mangondato may not have the numbers, but he brings to the presidential race a most personal story about the struggles of Muslim Mindanao, particularly after the 2017 terrorist siege of Marawi City. This is his third run for public office.
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