MAKATI CITY (21 March) – “Baka pupunta si Chief Minister sa Gambar barangay assembly (Perhaps the Chief Minister will attend the barangay assembly in Gambar),” my Roommate excitedly told me last Tuesday night after receiving a text message.
“Okay, it will be a historic visit,” I replied.
The following day (Wednesday, March 20), the rumored visit already became official.
Better known for his nom de guerre Al-Hadj Murad Ebrahim as the Chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Interim Chief Minister Ahud B. Ebrahim of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is expected to attend the barangay assembly of Barangay Gambar (along with the neighboring barangay of Pagalungan) on March 23, 2019 in the municipality of Kabuntalan, province of Maguindanao.
The conduct of barangay assemblies on the first semester of CY 2019 throughout the country on weekends within this month of March is pursuant to Memorandum Circular 2019-32 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last February 27.
In an open forum after his delivery of the keynote address, Chief Minister Ebrahim will listen to and discuss some issues and concerns of the barangays and to know the developments being undertaken by the barangays to be highlighted in the State of Barangay Address (SOBA) to be delivered by the respective barangay chairmen. Some ministers are also expected to join the Chief Minister in order to know from the local constituents themselves the activities and finances as well as other major concerns of the barangays.
Named after the traditional leader of the community “Datu sa Gambar,” Barangay Gambar is one of the 17 barangays of the municipality of Kabuntalan. Located in the northern part of the municipality, Gambar is bounded by the municipality of Pigcawayan in the north, barangays Bagumbayan and Pagalungan in the south, Barangay Payan in the east, and the municipality of Northern Kabuntalan in the west. It is divided into four sitios, namely: Mother Sitio, Maligaya, Bayabasen, and Lower Gambar. (“Kabuntalan through the Centuries: A Narrative of History and Culture,” 2018, p. 43)
Aside from the road connected to the neighboring Barangay Pagalungan, Barangay Gambar can be accessed from the mainland by pump boat or motorized banca via Supermarket port of Cotabato City. (Ibid.)
Gambar in History
Actually constituting a set of existing barangays (Barangay Gambar and its adjacent barangays in both municipalities of Kabuntalan and Northern Kabuntalan), Gambar used to be an early participant of economic activities in the archipelago. In fact, it was the stopover of Chinese traders before completing their journey by boat to Dulawan, or as far as Kabacan whenever the water level of the Rio Grande was high. (Ibid.)
Gambar also witnessed exemplary heroism against the Spanish intrusion. As Cesar Adib Majul writes about the 1884 fierce battle waged by Sultan Idris of Kabuntalan (1857-89) and led by his eldest son Datu Manguda, “Before the Spaniards could penetrate the interior of the lands of Datu Utto, they had to overcome the resistance of Sultan Idris of Talakuku (also called Sultan of Tumbao) who tried to block their approach at Tumbao.” (“Muslims in the Philippines,” p. 311)
Reynaldo I. Ileto describes the said battle in these words: “At Pagalungan [which was an integral part of Gambar] no less than two hundred Magindanao were killed. The encounter came to be deeply imbedded in their memories, and the story was transformed into an epic poem which was recited during their councils of war.” (“Maguindanao (1860-1888): The Career of Datu Uto of Buayan,” p. 23)
Najeeb Saleeby further commented thus, “About midway between Tambao [Tumbao] and Libungan on the left bank of the river (exactly pointing to the geographical location of the old Gambar) is a small monument, possibly a tomb, erected in memory of those who died during the fight between the Spaniards and Sultan Idris.” (“Studies in Moro History, Law and Religion,” p. 48)
Municipal District of Gambar
During the American colonial period, pursuant to Act No. 2711 (An Act Amending the Administrative Code) dated March 10, 1917, upon its separation from the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, Cotabato comprised the municipalities of Cotabato (the provincial capital), Dulawan, and Midsayap, and some thirty municipal districts which included the Municipal District of Gambar, alongside that of Tumbau (Tumbao) (the old name of Kabuntalan). (http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1917/03/10/act-no-2711)
Gambar became part of Tumbao which turned into a full-pledged municipality on June 16, 1949 under Executive Order No. 227 issued by President Elpidio Quirino, and sponsored by Congressman Datu Gumbay Piang and Board Member Jose Lim during the time of Datu Duma Sinsuat as Governor of Cotabato. Pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 1010 signed by President Ferdinand Marcos on September 22, 1976, Tumbao was officially renamed “Kabuntalan”. (“Kabuntalan through the Centuries,” pp. 28-30)
By virtue of Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 205 which was subsequently ratified in a plebiscite held on December 30, 2006, the 11 barangays north of Barangay Gambar were curved out of Kabuntalan to form the Municipality of Northern Kabuntalan. (http://rla-armmgov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/MMAA-205.pdf)
Gambar during Martial Law and Beyond
During the Martial Law in early 1970s, residents of Barangay Gambar, as residents of other barangays also did, abandoned their houses due to heavy fighting between government forces and Moro fighters, leading to the burning of houses, schools, and mosques, as the area was considered a no-man’s land. It was only in early 1970s that people gradually returned home subject to the procurement of permit or safe conduct pass from the military. (“Kabuntalan through the Centuries,” pp. 29-30)
Regarding Gambar is a “historical” place, Muslimin Sema, former chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and now chairman of National Bangsamoro Congress, thus narrates, “This is where our revolutionary meetings were held.” (https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/12/31/moro-leaders-unite-to-push-for-bol-in-historic-maguindanao-town)
While recalling the memory of military’s bombing raids from six in the morning until seven in the evening, Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Implementing Panel Chair and now BARMM Minister of Basic, Technical and Higher Education, says, “We were bombed here several times… The main target was our current MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim.” (Ibid.)
While revealing Gambar as the scene of many battles between the government and MILF fighters, Abdulraof Macacua (aka Sammy Almansor), chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and now BARMM Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Energy, says “Many milestones of the Moro revolution were held in Gambar.” (Ibid.)
Accordingly, Gambar was also a hideout of the MILF founding chairman Salamat Hashim. (Once again, please take note, Manila-based scholars and journalists: “Salamat” is the given name and “Hashim” the surname, and not vice versa, as you repeatedly and mistakenly insinuate: https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/12/31/moro-leaders-unite-to-push-for-bol-in-historic-maguindanao-town; https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/pdf/10.1142/9781908979551_fmatter; https://www.academia.edu/1411831/Transnational_Islam_in_the_Philippines; etc.)
Against this backdrop, it is fervently hoped that Chief Minister Murad’s impending revisit to Gambar could usher in a new revolution – the long sought-after revolution of genuine and sustainable development of not only Barangay Gambar but also the entire 10,084 barangays comprising the new Bangsamoro political entity.