Duterte: a Maranaw ‘Bantugen’?

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Maranaw culture and history are rich in folklore and myth. Tales of the epic adventures and exploits of legendary heroes were the primary entertainment of the early Maranaw, as much as television, comic books and e-gadgets are for today’s generation. One such folk tale tells of the Homeric adventures and exploits of Bantugen and Rajah Indarapatra, described as dashing and fearless warriors, who, with their magical sword and ring, slew the evils of the land personified by the ogre Omaca-an.

These stories are written in a manuscript we call kirim, which is handed down from generation to generation and recited by elders to children. I have fond memories of the time when our mother would gather us siblings around a “petromax” (a luxury at that time, which had to be pumped regularly to sustain the light) to recite aloud in a rhythmic, chant-like tone the stories about the bravery of these mythical heroes. The storytelling was done after our Magrheb (sunset) prayers and while waiting for the Isha (night) prayer. (Yes, Virginia, Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day.)
This juvenile memory comes to mind as President-in-waiting Rodrigo Duterte braces to do battle with drug lords and criminals, and all the other evils that plague Philippine society. Fighting crime and illegal drugs was the campaign mantra that propelled him to the presidency. And the Maranaw took a special interest in the success of his election campaign because we have long complained to the national government of the proliferation of prohibited drugs in our province of Lanao del Sur. The massive traffic in illegal drugs has continued unabated, allegedly because the drug lords, who are warlords themselves, are no less than the local executives. (We hope they are in the list of 35 local executives identified as drug lords and reported in the media.) Indeed, narcopolitics was very much visible in the last election campaign.

Lanao del Sur has always been an administration province during elections, meaning candidates anointed as administration candidates easily emerge winners. That is why political leaders fight tooth and nail to be declared candidates of the sitting president’s party. The last elections were no different: The administration candidates won, but for one important exception: the Liberal Party standard-bearer. Why?

It helped very much that Duterte’s drumbeaters and propagandists in the province, led by lawyer Abdullah Mama-o, harped on the fact that Duterte is a Maranaw on his mother’s side, and that, as mayor of Davao City, he sponsored and paid for the expenses of select Muslims going on a pilgrimage to Holy Mecca; gave alms to Muslims during Ramadan; and set up an Office of the Deputy Mayor for Maranaw Concerns at Davao City Hall.

Mama-o is based in the United States but came home just to campaign for Duterte (they were classmates in law school, we were told). His aggressive push for Duterte plus the exodus of political leaders to the latter’s camp easily crushed the campaign apparatus of the mighty Liberal Party in the province.

The questions now on the mind of the Maranaw are: Can Duterte do a Bantugen (or Rajah Indarapatra) and slay the giant Omaca-an and all the evils associated with drug trafficking and criminality? Will the new administration give focus to the drug problem in Lanao del Sur, which has defied solution? What about the other major concerns of the Moro people, like the Bangsamoro Basic Law? Will Duterte deliver on his promise to work for the passage of the proposed law in the light of the statement of his handpicked Speaker relegating it to the back burner because, he said, it will be subsumed after all by the incoming administration’s planned shift to federalism?

The Maranaw, along with the rest of the Filipino people, wait with bated breath. Who knows? Duterte might just earn the sobriquet “Bantugen.”

Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com), a 1967 UP law graduate, was a Fulbright fellow at New York University for his postgraduate studies. He is a former assemblyman and speaker of the legislative assembly of Autonomous Region 12, and also a former congressman, ambassador to Egypt and Sudan, and undersecretary of tourism and of justice.

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