By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and Miss Asia Pacific International 2018 Sharifa Akeel formally tied the knot at a grand ceremony here on Wednesday, Aug. 25, ending talks about an “affair” between them that had become a controversial fascination in social media and tabloid interest.
Ustadz (Islamic cleric) Ishak Katambak administered the pompous wedding rite, though explaining in his testimonial message that he had earlier solemnized the duo’s unity as soon as they started showing “deep affection” years back.
News about the Walima ceremony for Manudadatu, 53, and Akeel, 24, surfaced as early as Aug. 21 in social media, where hundreds if not thousands of relatives, friends and supporters conveyed greetings as well as desire to attend the event.
But organizers, in a posted invitation program, said: “Though we love to have our friends and relatives on our Walima celebration, yet, for (coronavirus pandemic) safety protocol, we are allowed to limited guests only.”
Before some 400 audience including traditional and political personalities and selected journalists, the duo took turns in narrating the antecedents of their unity.
Mangudadatu admitted having affectionate feelings for Akeel when he saw her in pre-teenage days in the company of elder relatives of humble situation in Lebak in adjacent Sultan Kudarat province.
He said the affection peaked when Akeel, reigning as 2018 Miss Asia Pacific, graced the beauty pageant tilt segment of the Inaul Festival in February 2019. The gala replaced the “Sagayan” Festival he organized as an annual fiesta for his province.
“I proposed marriage to her,” recalled Mangudadatu, who was at that moment some five months away from finishing his three straight terms as provincial governor.
For her part, Akeel disclosed having admired Mangudadatu amid positive media reportage on his gubernatorial reign for his exemplified care for the masses, especially the poor and underprivileged.
Akeel said she asked for time “to think about the proposal” as she was desirous to join the subsequent Miss Universe tilt.
But mutual admiration evolved into “deep affection” between the two, Ustadz Katambak said at Wednesday’s event.
Hours before the Walima ceremony, Katambak told the Philippine Muslim Today news that Rep. Mangudadatu and Akeel asked him to solemnize their relationship sometime in 2019.
“This (Wednesday’s event) is just formality because I have solemnized their unheralded private wedding,” he said.
Apology cum call for understanding
Mangudadatu, more known as Congressman or Governor Toto, and Akeel, a Qatari-Filipina (Maguindanaon) beauty, expressed their apology and sought public understanding over their past decision to keep their relationship private.
Datu Gordon, speaking for Akeel’s maternal relatives, said the duo’s relationship was understandable because such has been within the ambit of local culture and traditions under Islamic tenets.
The groom’s younger brother, incumbent Bangsamoro Parliament Member Khadafeh “Toy” Mangudadatu, cracked a joke with his remarks that his ceremonial testimony “would hopefully be his last” for his sibling’s love life.
Alongside thousands of well-wishers, fellow Filipino beauty queens greeted the new couple with well-wishes.
A national daily quoted former Mutya ng Pilipinas President Hemilyn Escudero-Tamayo cum crowned Mrs. Tourism Universe as “wishing Toto and Sharifa happiness together.”
“Through the storms of life, may your love for one another be steadfast and strong. May this union mark the first of the rest of your lives together, filled with love and true friendship. Congratulations on your marriage and best wishes always,” Tamayo added.
Jacqueline Tan-Sainz, president of the Miss Asia Pacific International pageant, has also extended her congratulation to the couple, the daily broadsheet said Thursday.
Movie actress Ynez Veneracion also greeted the new couple with well-wishes.
“Happy ako for him. Okey lang naman na kahit ilang beses siya magpakasal, basta huwag lang niya papabayaan ang mga anak niya. Sana manatili siyang responsableng ama sa mga anak niya,” Ynez, with whom Mangudadatu is blessed with a kid in past solemnized unity, said in news posted by the Philippine Entertainment Portal.
Brief controversy in media
Toto’s relationship with Sharifa became controversial when licensed nurse Melene Maligaya, who had tied knot with the lawmaker, appeared on the TV5 talk show Wanted sa Radyo in August 2020 and assailed the beauty queen for having an affair with her husband.
Mylene’s appearance drew sympathy as usual from program host Raffy Tulfo, who said he would assist her to file a suit against the duo in court. The dialog has been posted on the host’s popular YouTube channel.
But the controversy fizzled out when knowledgeable professionals, including this writer took to the YouTube channel clarifications that Toto and Mylene had been married under the Shariah law, which allows qualified Muslims to marry more than one up to the maximum of four.
The clarification has also drawn thousands of views even as Mangudadatu told the Philippine Muslim Today news that he had divorced Mylene before getting involved with Sharifa.
“We’ve had a stormy marriage. That’s why I divorced her…in peace,” the lawmaker said
Relatives and friends have lauded the new couple’s decision to renew their Islamic solemnization with prominence on Wednesday, saying the option was a “proactive” action to preempt possible political exploitation by rival camps.
They said Mangudadatu was inclined to vie for the gubernatorial slot again in the May 9, 2022 elections. He held the position from 2010 until he got elected Congressman in 2019.
Mangudadatu and his counterpart in the first district, Rep. Ronnie Sinsuat, authored harmonized bills that were led to the enactment of R.A. 11550, which splits their province into Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte.
The two lawmakers wanted for the conduct of a plebiscite for the ratification of the law before the filing of candidacies in Oct. 1-18 this year for the 2022 elections.
But the Commission on Elections promulgated recently an en banc resolution deferring the conduct of the plebiscite until four months after next year’s polls. (AGM)