DATU PAGLAS, MAGUINDAO (MindaNews/10 August) – On a solemn Sunday afternoon, members of the Paglas clan and their constituents gathered for a kanduli, a thanksgiving banquet, to commemorate the third death anniversary of the late head of the clan, Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Pendatun Paglas III.
The people gathered just before 6 p.m., in time to break the fast during this holy month of Ramadan.
Toto was known for transforming his war-torn municipality of Datu Paglas (named after his grandfather) into a model of peace and prosperity. Others called him as “the governor that ARMM never had,” referring at his two attempts to take the top post of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
He was mayor for a long time, but gave up politics to pursue a banana export business that earned praises not only in the Philippines but all over the world. His formula – openness and tolerance, which he practiced by employing Muslims, Christians and Lumads in the banana industry. Moro rebels even worked for him.
“Before he became a leader who advocated for peace, he was a typical war-oriented man who believed that he couldn’t leave his house without a gun,” reveals Datu Paglas Group chief operating officer Edgar L. Bullecer.
According to Bullecer, Toto’s outlook in life changed after the assassination attempt on his father way back in 1986.
On the eve before his father was to take oath as officer-in-charge of the governor’s office of Maguindanao, a grenade was thrown inside their house despite the number of security guards. Toto’s two-year-old brother died instantly. His father, who was severely wounded, died shortly after.
Instead of fighting back, Toto decided to stop bringing guns nor bodyguards with him.
“Although he doesn’t go to church, Datu Toto would say, ‘God is the only one to give us life. So if it’s time for you to leave this world, you will have to leave, despite the battalions of bodyguards who are supposed to keep you from harm. A gun won’t help me if God takes my life away’,” adds Bullecer.
On August 8, 2008, Toto died of a sudden attack of meningitis at the Davao Doctors Hospital at the age of 47.
The 6’2” Toto, despite being royalty as part of the Paglas-Pendatun clan, was usually seen in his maong pants and white shirt.
“Only father’s body has left. But his spirit, his vision, his ideals are very much alive in the community,” said Toto’s son Datu Ahmed Paglas.
Nikki Marquez, a niece, remembers his uncle as someone “who highly values education. Every time we met, he would ask us how we are faring with our studies.”
“I feel that my brother is really happy where he is right now. We have made a big progress, and the plans he had when he was still alive were made into a reality. The values of humility and sharing that we teach the next generation have always lived within us,” Bai Nora Paglas-Marquez shared.
Aside from clan members, two Japanese nationals came – Yoichi Amano, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Mindanao, and chamber member Takeyoshi Sumikawa, who both travelled straight from Davao City.
“It has been three years already since the visionary leader passed away. I remember Datu Toto, he was always looking forward to foster peace and economic development for his people,” shares Amano.
He said that the events happening now, like the fast-tracking of the peace talks, are what Toto had been looking forward to.
Amano noted, too, how the Japanese government is pushing for economic development even when the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are yet to be completed.
“We cannot start later, peace efforts and economic development should work hand in hand. If Datu Toto were here, he’d be ecstatic.” he added. (Joan Mae Soco-Bantayan / MindaNews)