BULUAN, Maguindanao – Hundreds of village folks including schooling orphans and poor adults-turned-professionals trooped to this town on Tuesday and staged various thanksgiving presentations to surprise their principal benefactor, Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu in his 49th birthday quite fete that day.
The governor obviously held back his tears as the young and adult visitors took turns in greeting him with songs and oratories illustrating in the vernacular how their lives have brightened through his “special” interventions in less than a decade.
“Sukhran (thanks), sir, for introducing MagPEACE (Maguindanao Program for Education Assistance and Community Empowerment) that opened the doors for our dreams of becoming Bangsamoro professionals,” said a banner carried by dozens of graduates and scholars of the program.
MagPEACE, which currently has more than 6,000 scholars in secondary, tertiary and graduate schools, has already produced over a thousand of professionals including physicians, lawyers and teachers since Mangudadatu created it upon his gubernatorial election in 2010.
Dozens of persons with disabilities (PWDs) organized by the governor into a cooperative of entrepreneurs’ four years ago also took part in the surprise visit, with one of them declaring in local dialect: “We no longer feel inferior. We are now productive citizens.”
Spectators shed “tears of joy” when 11-year old Abdul, one of over 100 orphans under the governor’s special children development program, recounted how he lost some rebel relatives in past armed battles with government forces.
“My father and some relatives were rebels because of poverty and perceived injustices…I will not be like them. I have proper education now, and will be a peaceful and productive Moro professional one day,” Abdul said in Maguindanao dialect that almost made the governor break into tears.
Hadja Jocelyn Abpi Esmael, a MagPEACE alumnae currently managing and teaching poor kids in an affiliate school of the program, presented to the governor a token of framed Moro Kris symbolizing “sharp and firm determination” to liberate Maguindanao from high rates of illiteracy and poverty.
Gov. Mangudadatu, who opted for quiet and simple celebration of his 49th birthday without media fanfares, delivered a brief message in answer to the surprise tributes organized Tuesday by his executive assistant, Eman “Ming” Aljani at the Rajah Buayan Peace Center here where the governor holds office.
“My only wish in life is justice to my love ones and the freedom from poverty, illiteracy and other misfortunes for every Bangsamoro,” Mangudadatu said at the gathering and in a subsequent Facebook post. The governor lost his wife, two sisters alongside female relatives and lawyer-friends in the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 massacre that left 58 people including 32 media workers. The massacre took place in Ampatuan, Maguindanao while his wife was heading a convoy to file her husband’s candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial elections.
Also on Tuesday, the provincial medical and relief mission led by Lynette Estandarte distributed more than 800 more school bags, slippers and food packages to elementary children at barangays Pedsalinggian and Dansalan in Rajah Buayan town in another tribute to the governor’s birthday.
Accompanying physicians and paramedics conducted free health services to more than 500 adults, and circumcised dozens of children at the same barangays, both known villages with enclaves by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Estandarte said.