By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – An improvised explosive device (IED) was discovered in a village in Rajah Buayan town hours before the visit of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and other provincial officials to render assorted outreach services.
Residents found the IED past 9:30 a.m. Wednesday by the roadside in Barangay Tabungao where the governor and his party were scheduled to visit, according to civilian and military officials.
Responding Army ordnance experts, who successfully disarmed the IED before the visiting party’s arrival, said the explosive was designed for “strong impact” because it was fashioned out of three combined 81mm mortar shells with a triggering device for activation from a distance.
Host Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan praised Gov. Mangudadatu and his party for pushing through with their visit despite the discovery of the bomb.
In text messages, Mayor Ampatuan admitted receiving earlier unverified information about a plan to bomb field events that would be attended by the governor and his younger brother, provincial mayors’ league president Freddie Mangudadatu. The latter is the administration’s gubernatorial candidate for Maguindanao in the May 2019 elections.
“Matagal nang may information ibinigay sa akin na mag-ingat ang key political leaders sa kampo ni Governor Toto (Mangudadatu) dahil may gagawa ng pambobomba sa events na dadaluhan nila,” Ampatuan said.
The Mangudadatus officiated past noon Wednesday three events at Barangay Tabungao – the turnover of a two-classroom school building constructed by the provincial government at the Pidsalenggian Elementary School, the surrender of loose firearms from some residents, and the conduct of a medical mission for villagers.
Lyenette Estandarte, provincial medical team focal person, said 600 classroom pupils received a corresponding number of school bags alongside 200 pairs of slippers and 200 hygiene kits.
Adult villagers received free health services and medicines and 600 food packs, while resident farmers were given 10 bags of rice seeds and 10 sacks of corn seeds, she said.
Estandarte said Gov. Mangudadatu delivered a brief message, reiterating his advocacy for his constituents to seek formal education not only to abate high illiteracy rate in Maguindanao but also to foster a bright future among the youth.
“Islam obliges us to seek knowledge…The youth can prosper only after gaining education, something that can make them future leaders…But education should lead one towards the right path in Islam, not the way of those who erred and earned the wrath of Allah (God),” Estandarte quoted the governor as saying.
Mangudadatu told reporters through text messages that he was “unfazed” by the bomb discovery, saying he and his family have “all good intentions” in public service to “make the difference in Maguindanao governance.”
Suspected partisans with links to local militant blocs tried to kill Mangudadatu using IEDs five times in the past eight years.
Provincial board member Russman Sinsuat, who was in a convoy with Mangudadatu, was killed in one of the bomb attacks that happened in Tacurong City where the governor was to celebrate his birthday on Aug. 16, 2011.
About two years ago, a civilian chopper carrying the governor and his brother, now gubernatorial candidate Freddie, sustained a suspected sniper’s bullet. The chopper ferried the Mangudadatus from Buluan town, the provincial capital, to another municipality on an important occasion, it was learned. (Ali G. Macabalang)