Paglas credits the late MILF chair for ?guiding principles?

Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas III, nephew of the late MILF chair, former mayor of Datu Paglas town and now a very successful businessman, told a group of young Moro professionals here that when he consulted his uncle about his decision to invite investors in Datu Paglas, Hashim gave him three guiding principles: “protect the environment at any cost because this is all we have for the next generation; do not abuse the workers, protect their rights and look after their welfare and safety; and  provide education for the children.”

Paglas claimed the first principle “allowed me to operate in a way that is acceptable not only to my international shareholders while it also looked after my moral obligation to the community and the future generation, to ensure preservation of our resources.”

He said the second principle “allowed me to work within the parameters not only of government regulations but a commitment as well to the teachings of God, thru His different Messengers and lived by different religions.”

As to the third principle, Paglas said, “I will continue to invest in the future of our children. I believe and I have seen this myself that poverty and economic inequality are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.”

“A healthy and well-educated generation will be the most positive and powerful tool against terrorism, and for the preservation of earth’s resources,” Paglas said, adding that “as the saying of the Wise goes, we did not simply inherit this world from our parents, the better truth is that: we merely borrowed this world from our children.”

Paglas said education and economic development of the Bangsamoro are “the most effective solutions to the decades-long armed conflicts that have confronted Mindanao.”

“If only we are economically developed, if only our poor brothers and our poor villages and lands are productive, if we are able to trade and do business with others, then we can co-exist with more pride and self-respect. If only our poor brothers are better educated and adequately provided economically, then they can no longer be a fertile breeding ground to terrorism and other form of criminality and lawlessness,” he added.

Paglas admitted that he learned from Hashim that “a clear sense of vision and mission helps clarify and purify our intentions.”

He admitted not having been born poor “although ever since my younger days I had always found natural affinity with the house helpers, drivers and bodyguards of my parents” and “I had seen the glaring divide that separated the Muslim nobilities from the common families.”

He said he “protested the norms where the leadership of the ruling clans put their interest over the most basic concerns of those in poverty” and “vowed to use the influence of my family to make a difference in our community because I was tired of seeing the same vicious cycle of violence and poverty.”

“I wanted to try something new because the traditional Muslim way of leading our people was not working. It worked for the elite Muslim families and the politicians. But it never worked for the people,” he said.

“I also learned that in fulfilling my mission to bridge the economic, social, and political divide among the tri-peoples in Mindanao, the Muslims, Christians, and Highlanders, I knew I had to change the rules of the game,” he said.

Paglas explained that when the convention dictated that the Datus or members of the local royal families were the only people who could make sound decisions for the people, “I encouraged dialogue and consensus among local folks. By doing so, we share the accountability to make things work for all of us.”

Paglas said that because “Philippine Muslim culture is basically very exclusive, I challenged to bring everyone’s concerns on the table, the government, the military, the religious leaders, the workers, the rebels and even the lawless elements because I believe that what each of these groups say is of great value.”

He acknowledged the difficulties in “welcoming new ideas and new ways.”

“We did not want outsiders in our territory. But again, this system did not work for us and therefore, I invited NGOs and the academe to work with us so that we could learn how to invest in our future through training, skills building, values formation and education.”

“We built partnerships with as many groups as possible, regardless of culture, faith, ideologies, to hasten the progress we deserve and dreamed for,” he added.

“I was brought up in a culture where guns and goons define a Man’s status in the society. I challenged that convention,” he said.

He said he went around Datu Paglas without bodyguards but admitted that “at first,  I was not comfortable because it was not the normal thing. But I decided to put an end to that fashion because the old ways were not working for others and for me either.”

The 47-year old businessman said his personal campaign “took a toll on me.”

“I lost my father and three brothers due to violence and lawlessness, before I could demonstrate to the rest that we don’t need guns. Other traditional and political leaders are still relentless, but I keep the faith that in due time they will change.”

“I was brought up in a culture of ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’” and “throughout my growing years, I was witness to vengeance killings we call ‘rido’ among clans, perpetuated throughout the succeeding generations.”

“In the pursuit of my business plan, and inspired by my late uncle former MILF Chair Hashim Salamat, I decided that this culture of hatred and cycle of violence must stop,” Paglas said, adding that “when my father and younger brothers became murder victims, I decided to accept that it was their fate, their time had come, God had Allowed it to happen, and I must forgive. I left justice to the laws and to the authorities.”

“Today we are starting to reap the fruits of our labor and faith for a better future,” he said.

Paglas said they were able to change the picture of Datu Paglas town from war zone to economic zone “by infusing at least $400,000 dollars to the local economy every month in the form of salary for the more than 2,000 full time plantation workers and allied economic activities.”

“For me, the bigger challenge is always how to sustain the gains. And my simple but honest response to this is to continue to listen to what other people have to say, and listen from the wisdom of their stories as they gave me great inspiration to continue to improve, to be a better leader,” he added.

“The investment that we established in Datu Paglas allowed us Muslims to prove our worth, whether it be as a leader, as a follower, as an employer, as a worker, as a professional, or simply as a responsible citizen in out communities. We earned the trust of our investors. Recently, my investors conveyed their approval of up to U.S. $50 million additional investment to expand our operations to 2,300 more hectares in, to the surprise of many, the risky Muslim area, including the predominantly Maranao mountain town of Bumbaran, and its adjoining town of settlers, in Wao, both towns in the province of Lanao del Sur,” he said.

Paglas said he is proud to note that the expansion areas used to be in the headlines because of the armed conflict “but now this town is looking forward to having its own share of peace and prosperity, for the benefit of their children. This new investment and development means employing at least 3,000 more people and I am glad to know that thousands of rebels took advantage of the opportunity to be in the mainstream workforce,” Paglas said.

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