Maguindanao’s ‘tri-people’ town celebrates 58th founding feast PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 08 June 2013 11:28

Residents of Maguindanao’s hinterland Upi town — unique with  its being a tranquil “tri-people community” — will celebrate on June 10, 2013 its 58th founding anniversary with highlights on how local folks have been co-existing for almost six decades now.

The re-elected municipal mayor of Upi, Ramon Piang, a Teduray chieftain, is a member of the government panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He ran unopposed for the town’s mayoral post during the May 13 elections.

Upi, located at the southeast of Maguindanao, is home to “tri-people,” a mix of Teduray, Moro, and Christian settlers.

The area’s ethnic Teduray communities belong to Mindanao’s non-Muslim indigenous people, or IP, whose ancestral domains are spread throughout Upi and South Upi, also in Maguindanao, and parts of the coastal towns of Lebak, Kalamansig and Palimbang, in Sultan Kudarat province.

The hinterland town, which is 38 kilometers from Cotabato City via concreted highway passing through rugged, mountainous terrains, is the top corn producer of Maguindanao.

Piang, who had served as vice mayor of Upi for nine years, or three consecutive terms, prior to his stint as undefeated mayor from 2001 to 2010, made a historic “comeback” with his unopposed candidacy for the town’s top elective post last May 13.

Local folks attribute the fragile peace reigning in the surroundings of Upi to their municipal government’s resolution of domestic security issues through dialogues among Moro, Teduray and Christian elders.

Re-elected Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who won overwhelmingly in Upi during the May 13 gubernatorial elections, said the municipality is a good showcase of how its tri-people have been propagating unity by appreciating the commonalities of their cultures and religions while, at the same time, recognizing with diligence their sectarian differences.

Upi is host to the state-run Upi Agricultural School, where Mangudadatu’s office has more than 400 scholars.

Mangudadatu said the provincial government is now focused on helping the office of Piang convince local farmers to shift into propagation of rubber trees and African oil palms for better income and for the municipality to become Maguindanao’s “rubber and oil palm hub.”

“We have no problem implementing costly projects in Upi because the traditional elders, religious and elected leaders there are in control. They can efficiently maintain law and order alongside the police and the military,” Mangudadatu said.

Residents of Upi are lucky enough. Their local government unit got a heavy equipment grant from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which they use in maintaining farm-to-market roads connecting farming enclaves to the town proper.

The town also has a “peace radio,” dxUP, which was established by a foreign donor as a broadcast facet for programs meant to foster peace among Muslims and non-Muslims in the area.

Alih Anso, who is overseeing the operations of dxUP, located beside the Upi town hall, is an ethnic Iranon Muslim, who is also popular for his public journalism and “peace reporting” concept aiming to foster religious and political solidarity among local sectors.

Originally only a barrio under older Dinaig municipality, now named Datu Odin Sinsuat, the now 58 year-old Upi,  which has 32 barangays, was created municipality by virtue of Republic Act 1248, which was approved on June 10, 1955.

The mayor to have reigned longest in Upi, by contemporary accounts, was the late Michael Sinsuat, also known as Datu Puti, who was at the helm of its local government from 1963 to 1980, and, subsequently, from 1992 to 2001.