Kusog Mindanaw (Mindanao Force), a discussion platform on Mindanao issues that I moderate, recently featured a discourse about clan politics in Maguindanao.  The young Maguindanao professionals observed that the same clans have dominated politics in the province for over forty years. 
I first came to Cotabato in 1965, and I share the same observations.  Regimes and governments come and go, yet the said 20 or so political clans, with few exceptions, continue to rule the municipalities and the province.  Kusog Mindanaw  asked whether this may be the REASON why there is hardly any progress in the said place except for the nationally funded infrastructure. In terms of the generally accepted human indicators as standard of progress, the province and municipalities have remained in the bottom of the heap.
Maguindanao politics, except with few additions post 1986 EDSA uprising, has remained in the hands of the elite ruler clans since 1946.
In the mid 50’s, Mr. Simeon Millan came out with a book entitled Cotabato Directory naming the political clans per municipality.  Then there was but one empire Province of Cotabato (as big as the entire Central Luzon consisting of eight provinces).  
When he wrote the Cotabato Directory, the paramount ‘LORD’ of the whole province was the famous Datu Udtog Matalam.  The was no doubt, that the empire province was his ‘fiefdom’. Gov. Matalam in partnership with Congressman Salipada Pendatum (brother-in-law) established a ‘no-nonsense’ rule over the land and the peoples therein.  He might have appeared autocratic to people outside Cotabato, but the man governed with ‘native’ wisdom; he gave justice to the poor; and he PRESERVED peace and order in the whole province.  The Matalam-Pendatum dominated the political scenery of the pre Moro Rebellion in the 1970’s.
In 1966, the Empire Province of Cotabato was divided into North Cotabato and South Cotabato. The former being heavily dominated by Muslim population remained in the hands of Datu Udtog Matalam and the latter (South Cotabato) dominated by Christian Settlers was given to his then ‘loyal and faithful’ Vice Governor, Dr. Sergio Morales.
In his book, Mr. Millan named the traditional rulers in the province and in each municipality of Cotabato.  The paramount political tandem was the Matalam-Pendatum dynasty.  They dominated the national politics and the politics of the province in the 60’s to early 70’s prior to the declaration of Martial Law.
Before Matalam-Pendatum dynasty, the rulers of the empire province was the Piang Clan beginning with the famous Datu Amai Mingka Piang who became the first uncontested ‘LORD” of the whole Cotabato Valley when he became the partner of the American colonial rule in the whole Cotabato Valley.  The more famous Piang’s were the three brothers that dominated Cotabato pre and post 1946 Independence – the 1935 ConCom Delegate Atty. Datu Menandang Piang , Congressman Datu Gumbay Piang and former Governor and Mayor Datu Ugalingan Piang that ruled the province and the traditional Piang homeland – the Municipality of Dulawan (renamed Datu Piang and further subdivided into 3 municipalities in the early 2000).
Next is the Ampatuan Clan who are the traditional ‘LORDS’ of the Municipality of Maganoy (now chopped into four small municipalities). The many and different branches of the Ampatuan clan have ruled the place and the nearby Municipalities of Ampatuan, Datu Piang and Sapakan (Rajah Buayan) either through inter-clan marriages or political alliances.
They gained prominence in the province and the national politics, as well, following their victory in the local 2001 Elections. The erstwhile Mayor Andal Ampatuan of Maganoy wrestled control of the Province of Maguindanao from the then incumbent Governor Zacaria Candao.  
This feat was followed by the victory of his son, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan in the 2005 ARMM Elections.  With his capacity to establish political alliances with ruling clans in the whole ARMM that included the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi Tawi, and Basilan, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr. – Patriarch of the Ampatuan Clan - had a near total control of politics not only in the entire province of Maguindanao but also in the entire Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Datu Andal settled political disputes and rivalries as well as the infamous ‘ridos’.
The Ampatuan clan is connected by marriages to the Sinsuat Clan, the Midtimbang Clan, the Biruar Clan, Santiago Clan, Piang Clan and to some prominent families in Lanao del Sur. After the Maguindanao Massacre, the Ampatuan clan continues to wield direct political power in four municipalities and in five municipalities through in laws and political alliances.

(NEXT: the Mangudadatus and the Masturas)
Follow Fr. Eliseo Mercado on Twitter @junmeromi.