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Shallom, Assalamu Alaikum, Peace of God Be Upon Humanity. Wholeheartedly, I thank and congratulate the very well organizers of this event, for this indeed is a very meaningful gathering on which advocates of peace and development will have the chance to share among us the practices and learning of our institution and eventually each of us will gain substantial knowledge from it. I also would like to thank all the participants. Your presence expresses your enthusiasm and determination to achieve the most-longed goal that we all same wish for Mindanao, and that is, harmony among our people and progress in the economy of our dear promise land.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I admit that sharing the experience of Paglas Corporation is a subject that is not alien to me. However, I same confess that whenever I am asked to speak about it, I am even more excited than a kid whose about to receive his first ever toy gift. I feel indeed honored at the same time proud that I will once again talk about Paglas Corporation, share its practices and disclose what our learnings from those practices are.

I grew up in a place where most of the people live in poverty. Cruelty, injustice and abuse are words that are synonymous to the name of my town. And for that fact, may I quote a cliché “it is indeed sad, but true”.

The establishment of the Paglas Corporation begins with the realization that if it must exist it will change, for the better, the life of the people in my town. Thus, I came out with a “business plan”. A plan of which that has also been supported by my elders and in particular my late uncle Hashim Salamat, a former chairman of a rebel group Moro International Liberation Front. He specifically mentioned three important things to me and those had been my guiding principles ever since.

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 last;
Provide education for the children.

This guidance made Paglas Corporation to continue its lead not only in becoming a successful business entity but also in achieving earnest and solid social responsibility.

Everyone, please allow me to mention first the primary challenge of Paglas Corporation. Since, it was in the past that Datu Paglas town is known to be a war-torn area, it was hard at that time to convince investors to finance our plan of establishing a banana plantation. The same reason why banks don’t lend me money despite that I could provide the necessary collateral. According to them, “the risk is too high” that is why properties in Muslim provinces were, and generally still are, not accepted as collateral. We pursue, because we don’t have any other choice, on allowing investors to lease our fanily lands in a very minimum amount just so to attract them to invest for the project. Although attracting foreign investment by multinational corporations into conflict areas remains to be a challenge, we are proud that during the time when we first started, we have surpassed this kind of test.

Paglas Corporation, without disregarding other small factors, has given more significant value on the four components that make up the company; its workers, its partners, its policies and its responsibilities to the environment.

  • The company employs more than two thousand workers in both its banana plantation in Datu Paglas Maguindanao and in its office headquarters in Davao City. Hand in hand, Christians and Muslims work together harmoniously in the plantation and even more surprising, even former members and officers of the rebel group Moro International Liberation Front also holds positions in the company. It may be interesting for you to know how Paglas Corporation was able to provide pleasant working environment for these workers, that despite they have different beliefs and religion, they were able to work together and respect each other. We address this situation by putting a solid concern on the understanding of each worker to each other’s beliefs and likewise ensure that injustice and discrimination will be put to rest. ? We conduct series of workshops and seminars, even invite priests and imams to talk about values and the teachings of the Bible and the Quoran. It promotes better understanding of each other’s practices and cultures. Everyone is told that we pray to the same God, we just call him his different names. Allah, Yahweh, Elohim, Christ, God the Father. Whatever you call him, he is the same God.
  • ? Everyone is treated equally. Muslims or Christians are given a chance to hold executive or supervisory positions. How well should the worker performs its task, would be the basis for its promotion to higher ranks and not whether because he/she is a Muslim or a Christian.
  • Benefits and bonuses are given to employees appropriately.

As to work ethics, we encourage every employee to follow standards and implementation of the company policies is firmly exercised.

  • Strict policy on attendance and on management of time in accomplishing a task.
  • Performance evaluation of employees is being conducted.
  • Series of trainings given to designated employees when there is new innovation or technology being acquired by the company.

Our relationship with our partners and other affiliates is of vital value to us. We do not only work with them and support their interest in relation to business matters but we also made each other a friend to everybody. This is a kind of practice that promotes good relationship between partners which result to a better and comfortable accommodation of ideas, suggestions and better discussion of all other concerns.

Our company is not only in partnership with business segment. We are also connected with different organizations and institutions. Mostly, those whose interest is focused on promoting the development of the business sectors as it is the sustainable way to economic progress and therefore uplift the chance for a long lasting peace.

In the preservation and protection of the environment, the Paglas Corporation and its partners uses technologies and innovations to handle most of its operation. Our company adopts environmentally sound processes to minimize and mitigate the impact of the company’s operations to the environment and the communities. To reduce public health hazards to the communities surrounding the plantation and neighboring provinces, with our partners, we adopted a state-of-the-art drip irrigation technology to distribute fertilizers and pesticides provided by an Israeli engineering firm as oppose to traditional air spray technique. At first, this plan encountered intense opposition from the community and the Ullamas. “There is no way that we will allow Israelis, the enemies of Islam to come to heartland of Maguindanao”, said one of the elders. However, understanding the tremendous benefit of the technology to the environment and people, we conducted community dialogue, countless consultations and education sessions until such time that the community was ready to make consensus or shared decision allowing the company to work with Israelis. To protect the water systems surrounding the plantation, the company has invested in a multi-million modern waste-water treatment facility to ensure that only clean water goes out of the company’s pipelines. Truly, we kept our promise to our elders and to our mother nature and we swear we will remain committed to it.

In implementing conflict-sensitive practices in our company, we were able to encourage our Muslim and Christian workers to work peacefully in our plantation. We learn that by means of educating people, whose culture and belief is different from another, they were able to understand their differences and eventually they use their own initiative to freely employ respect to each other. This practice is even brought to their homes and therefore respect is even being spread towards their family members and neighborhood.

In an appropriate execution of the company’s policies, we learn that it results to the motivation of the employees to work better. This is very important for the company because the outcome of every task being performed can greatly affect the quality of the products produced.

In extending partnership, and not limiting it to business sectors only but with other organizations and institution as well, we learn that in support of their objectives we also expand our chance to educate, influence and inspire people in different communities for a common goal of achieving peace and progress.

In doing our part in the protection and the preservation of the environment, we learn that we are not doing this just for ourselves but also for the future generation.

Friends and stakeholders of peace and progress, it may seem so simple and common those practices and learnings are, but to impose those in a place were there is high rate existence of conflicts and rampant criminalities, I have been there, I have done that, and it wasn’t that easy. BUT, I didn’t say it cannot be done. For today, we are reaping the fruits of our labor. By way of infusing at least $400,000 dollars to the local economy every month in the form of salary versus almost nothing in the past --- we are able to change the life of the people, in particular example, the town of Datu Paglas, from war zone to economic zone. We have expanded our operations in many areas in Mindanao, to mention a few, in Wao and Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur. New investment and development like this means employing thousands more people and I am glad to let you know that thousands of rebels took advantage of the opportunity to be in the mainstream workforce.

In closing, I must say that companies, big or small, have clear and obvious commercial interest as well as moral imperative to help build prosperous and peaceful societies. Everyone has a role to play, and more importantly, everyone has a stake in peace and development. With vision and commitment, and by the grace and will of God, Insh’Allah, nothing is impossible.

May this humble sharing be of benefit to you and many thanks again for inviting me to join you in this wonderful occasion. May I pay tribute to our One and Only God by saying, Allahu-akbar, which means God is great! YES, GOD IS GREAT INDEED. Alhamdullilah, Praise the Lord God Almighty, only to Him be the Honor and Glory.