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NY Consulate hosts Mindanao forum

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NEW YORK – The Philippine Consulate here hosted a forum entitled, “Datu Paglas Town: A Model for Peace and Development in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Philippines,” about a war-torn village which is now a bustling economic zone.

During the presentation, Datu Ibrahim Pendatun Paglas III (Datu Paglas, for short), the man responsible for the transformation, shared his personal advocacy for peace and development in the town, created and named after his family by the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

He said that the town was once considered a “no man’s land,” being the scene of violent clashes between government soldiers and Muslim rebels, unresolved political killings, and numerous kidnappings. He was then the town mayor.

Datu Paglas said that in the 1990s, his father and three brothers were assassinated. Instead of taking revenge, he took a different route and focused his attention on improving the lives of the people in the area. He challenged local warlords to support him, to bring economic development, education, better health services and a better life for the people.

In 1996, he started negotiating with investors to establish a banana plantation in Paglas. His perseverance paid off. Today, Datu Paglas Town is the site of a bustling banana plantation (La Fruteria, Inc.) with more than 2,000 workers about 90 percent of whom had been former members or sympathizers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It is a highly unusual business venture that brought together Italian and Saudi traders, Israeli farming experts, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. and top MILF commanders. Currently, La Frutera, Inc. is the largest foreign investment project in the Muslim autonomous region. Its banana produce are in heavy demand in Japan, China, and the Middle East.

Datu Paglas added that former guerillas or military combatants no longer sleep under the stars. They now speak with a sense of pride about being able to send their children to school. (Even the USAid had linked up with the Knowledge Channel Foundation in the Philippines, to bring quality satellite TV-based education to schoolchildren in the remote villages of the ARMM.)

Datu Paglas said he is in New York on the invitation of Consul General Cecilia Rebong as part of the consulate’s mission to help raise awareness about our Muslim brothers.

Rebong said the story of Datu Paglas is “very inspiring and can truly serve as a model for peace and development in other areas in Muslim Mindanao.”