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ARMM needs Toto Paglas

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I am told Datu Toto Paglas has a snowflake’s chance in hell of being elected in today’s ARMM election as the new Governor. Datu Paglas was not anointed by Malacañang and knowing how elections are held in the region, that just about to wrap up his candidacy. The last time around, cheating was so efficient, to the point that Datu Paglas lost in his own town of Datu Paglas. I’ve been in that town and I know they love him there and there is no way he could lose an election there.

The unfortunate thing is that our Muslim brothers, just like the rest of us, are simply unable to elect the right leaders. It is obvious that our Muslim brothers are victimized by poverty as many of our fellow Christians in many parts of the country. That’s because political leaders have taken advanges of them and neglected their development needs.

In the case of the ARMM, billions of pesos of taxpayer money had been wasted through the years by leaders who failed to use their position and resources to uplift their people our of poverty. Yet, now they have a second opportunity to elect people someone with a proven economic development track record, it seems our Muslim brothers will choose to take the old path leading them nowhere. The fact that Malacañang endorsed an untested young scion of a political clan out of gratitude for her lopsided win in that province last year, exposes Ate Glo’s baser instincts for politics as usual.

I do not see how any Muslim voter who honestly wants to see an economically developed Muslim Mindanao area can vote for anyone other than Datu Toto Paglas. Here is a aman who can honestly lay claim to having delivered on his promise to uplift his people from poverty, and in the process tamed a deadly rebellion, of which he was once part.

I saw with my own eyes how he managed to marshal the resources that has transformed his town into a busting economic zone. I have talked to the people in his town who are happy beyond belief that they now have jobs, are able to send their children to school and have peace of mind because they no longer have to live with the shadows of war and lawlessness looming over them.

What Datu Paglas has achieved for his town is nothing short of a miracle. Israeli and Latin American experts are working side by side with Muslim Filipinos in the banana plantations. Former MILF guerilla leaders are working with former AFP officers in assuring security for the plantations and the town. Small enterpreneurs also bloomed as locals started to have purchasing power. Economic activity has also reached a point that made the establishment of a bank necessary.

Datu Toto has vision not only for his townmates but for all of Muslim Mindanao. He has in fact, started working in other towns in ARMM, experimenting with other cash and export crops. He has also invited young Muslim leaders to see what progress can do to a town that was once the center of a secessionist war zone. Jobs, he told me, are key to peace.

Datu’s ability to engender harmonious relationship between Christians and Muslims is also well documented. When Gawad Kalinga, a project od the lay Catholic ministry Couples for Christ, built houses in his town, Datu Paglas remarked that after his people saw how Christians worked with their own hands to build houses for the poorest Muslims in his town, no better expression of love and friendship has been demonstrated.

I imagine Datu Toto Paglas decided to seek the top ARMM post as a means to share his vision of development with the rest. I imaine too he has no illussions that he is on an uphill battle, but one that is worth figthing. I hope reports reaching Manila about the sure defeat of Toto Paglas is exaggerated. I hope our brother Muslims know how to recognize a good leader when they see one. While I am sure he has his faults too, as human does, he is as good as they get not just for Muslim Mindanao but for the Philippines.

This column is not meant to get votes for Toto Paglas because it is too late for that. I just wanted to higlight Toto Paglas as another missed opportunity, which is the story of our lives. Nationally, we had our chance to have a leader who could have inspired us with a no nonsense kind of leadership but we choose the one we now have. Alas, Raul Roco has passed away, and that missed opportunity is now permanent. It is sometimes easy to conclude that because we are unable to take advantage of opportunities, we are hopelessly beyond help.