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To all of you participants to today’s Awards event, let me convey to you the universal greetings of Peace… Shalom, Assalamu alaikum, Greetings of Peace to everyone, ang Kapayapaan ng Panginoong Diyos at Mapasaatin lahat, ang Kalinaw sa Ginoong Diyos maanaa kanatong tanan.

It is both an honor and a privilege to be with you tonight. It is like a homecoming, as I claim the privilege of belonging to what is called the Bayaning Pilipino family. A family composed of citizens who come from various persuasions and backgrounds, yet share a common vision, desire and aspirations – to help improve the lives of others.

Tonight, it is my pleasure to share with you my own experience as a special Bayaning Pilipino awardee not so long ago, how I felt throughout the whole process – from the time I was nominated up to the time I received the award, how it influenced the way I lived from that time on, what did I intend or plan to do.

But I guess more my important reflection is who I was and where did I come from, to even be gifted with such a humbling award from a prestigious institution.

In my town, in those days, one could get kidnapped or robbed as early as one o’clock in the afternoon because of extreme poverty of the people. One could not go around without a bodyguard.

Less than 20 years ago, the secluded Muslim town of Datu Paglas in Maguindanao was considered a “no-man’s land”, torn by violence from Islamic and communist insurgencies, personal vendettas and local political rivalries. I was a young Mayor of this town.

As a result of bitter power struggles, assassins and bandits gunned down my father, who was a former mayor of the town, and my three brothers. In 1991, when one of my brothers was killed, many of my relatives and friends expected that I would launch a retaliatory war against the clans whom we thought were responsible for my brother’s death (in fact two more brothers of mine died in the following years still due to violence and lawlessness). I did not do it.

Normally in our culture, I could have taken the road of “an eye for an eye”. But why did I not do it, despite the rage and the pain I felt at that time?

I could only attribute it to the Guidance of our Almighty. I believe it was God who spoke to my heart and urged me to stop the cycle of violence. I realized that this pattern would never end. I thought this ‘culture of vengeance’ has to stop. I simply cannot go on like this. I decided to forgive who caused the death of my dear father and 3 young brothers, I left justice for them to the authorities.

I was also focused on my desire to change the lives of my people for the better – to bring economic development with special emphasis on providing education for our children. Because 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.

Today, Paglas is a bustling banana plantation with more than 2,000 workers. It is a highly unusual business venture that brings together American, Italian and Saudi traders, Israeli farming experts, and top Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders. Mind you, I even asked permission from my Uncle, then MILF Chairman, the late Hashim Salamat, to allow Israeli participation in this business venture. It may surprise you as it did to me, he readily gave his blessings and even expressed appreciation that the Israeli’s were teaching the local Muslims advance technology in agriculture, adding in a positive manner, that the Israeli’s were “chosen people.”

Indeed, the so-called “no man’s land” is no more.

This particular story must have captured the interest of the Bayaning Pilipino Awards. Like I said earlier, I felt humbled by the award, and I received it on behalf of all the stakeholders of what the Awards stood for. I received it on behalf of those orphaned during the past wars in my town, as well as of those who had similarly suffered the loss of a loved one, a property, a career, a hope, in other conflict and violence-torn towns in Mindanao, particularly the Philippine Muslim Region.

The award helps to remind me about the vision and aspiration to be of service to others, to continue trying to do good, to praise and thank the Almighty for His Blessings.

For you, tonight’s awardees, in the spirit of my faith’s month-long spirit of fasting, I pray that God Almighty Bless you even more, especially in wisdom and health, to continue being of service to others, in the same if not more, passion and commitment, for as long as we are on earth.

Wassalamu-alaikum as we say in Muslims, which means, May God Bless Us All.