JUSTICE PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT IN MINDANAO: THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF THE IBPBy: DATU IBRAHIM P. PAGLAS III | October 8, 2004 | PRINT THIS ARTICLE
First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks for your having invited me to speak before you today. It is good to know that no less than the Integrated Bar of the Philippines is interested in learning and finding new collaborative ways to plant the seed of justice, peace, and the development in Mindanao as they relate to the role that the IBP may play. You have seen a part of my story in the video. Relative to that story, allow me to stress key points I have learned in the process of creating my journey to understanding the “business of peace” by risking everything that I have, armed with nothing less than my belief and vision that peace can be achieved if only people will give it a chance. While I first wished that my own story remained a private one, I ultimately realized that I have to share it to as many people as possible, because it could serve as an inspiration, a living model. I become passionate when I tell it, because I lived through it and I continue to create and journey with the story, together with my Muslim brothers and sisters. In my story there are five basic things I have learned which contributed to the attainment of my lifelong dream of having peace and development. First, about a Sense of Awareness and Mission --- I was about 8 years old when I first realized the great DIVIDE that separated my family from the rest of our neighbors and those who served us. At night I would sneak out of my room and join our drivers and house helpers as they share stories of hardship. From then on, I vowed to make use of my privilege as my father’s successor, to make a difference. Right there and then, I knew in my heart that my mission was to BRIDGE the social, economic and political divide although my mind was still too young to grasp these definitions of issues. Second, I learned that clarity of purpose was my ever faithful guide towards achieving my vision of peace and development. The road to achieve my life’s mission was not at all easy even with the vast influence and power of my family. Third, I confronted certain traditional conventions because I realized that those did not work for the better. I wanted to try new things. When the rules of the game was about authority and power… I encouraged dialogue, consensus, and living at the grassroots, with my “subjects”. When the battle-cry was about being elusive, I challenged everyone to take accountability in our shared decision to open up our ancestral lands for investors. As a Mayor, the norm was to secure myself with a battalion of body guards. I was like one of those warlords. Then, I put the practice out of fashion. I told other Datus --- it is not “cool” to have bodyguards. I want to be a real LEADER and that means I have to set as a good example to others. There were those who responded to my advocacy but many remained steadfast in their traditional beliefs. I never lose faith they will change in their own time. Fourth, although I came from the political environment, I had to learn that “business must be a serious business”. Considering that 80% of our workers are rebel ex-combatants (in fact some still active), it was very difficult for them to work side-by-side with Christians. It was even more difficult for professional managers to supervise people with 45 caliber pistol in their backs and manage people with no educational background. Therefore we had to hire a team of selfless, volunteer-driven team of professional managers who had patiently guided and walked with them. But all that and more, we have conquered as I was so determined to succeed, because failure means losing my (and everybody’s shared) dream of a bright future for our children. Most of all, it meant sending our youth and children back to the killing fields. I take this opportunity to thank La Frutera, Inc. and its investors for their faith, their patience, as they continue to play their history’s appointed role in the peace and development of my town initially, and now expanding to other areas in the ARMM. Fifth, and which I realized as hindsight --- that I had to follow my heart. I knew that there was something terribly wrong about the “Muslim situation” and I chose to tread the so called “road less traveled”. But Allah brought me to the right path, Alham Dullilah, Praise God Almighty; I met the right people along the way. Today, we are starting to reap the gains of our hardships. By way of infusing at least P10.0 million pesos to the local economy of Datu Paglas every month in the form of payroll and payment to our local service contractors --- the picture of Paglas town as a “no man’s land” has changed for good. For me --- the challenge continues as I am confronted with the much more difficult question of how I should replicate and sustain the Paglas experience. I am happy to tell you that because of this living showcase called the Paglas Story, I was able to convince our foreign investors, deciding also on the basis of their own due diligence of course, to infuse an additional $40 million dollars investment in Muslim Mindanao. This is the expansion of their operations to the towns of Wao and Bumbaran in the province of Lanao del Sur even if these places, like Paglas used to be, also was considered a “no man’s land” (for example, it was in Bumbaran town, where more than 10 people were massacred few years back). And, because of this, we are opening the light of hope as we start hiring at least 3,000 employees in the heartland of another former conflict zone. Just like what I did in Datu Paglas, I will continue to engage the help of Jewish and other foreign farming experts who I embraced as dear brothers, because their agricultural technology is far advanced. I will continue to give opportunity to the employment of rebels and “lawless elements”, where possible, for I see their return to normal life, benefiting their children and society in general. I will continue to solicit the help of my dear brothers and friends in the military and police, although they in general are viewed as “enemies” by some of my relatives in the MILF, for they have been a part of my original struggle to restore peace and order in my town, and they continue to be of help to this day. (Before my dear uncle the late former MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat passed away late last year, he would always assure me that he had no rancor in his heart towards men in uniform, for, according to him, they were just following orders and I sincerely believed him. At this moment, forgive my emotion, that I miss my uncle, may he now be resting in the Peace of God). I share this story with you, to help provide a backdrop against which the IBP may view of its role and responsibility towards the attainment of everyone’s collective aspiration for justice, peace and development in Mindanao. Specifically, most of Muslim Mindanao is still very much traditional in the conduct of their day to day lives. We continue to be governed by the culture inherent to our respective tribes whether it be Maguindano, Tausug, Maranao, etc. or even our dear brothers in the Highlands. There’s a good number of young leaders among us tribal people both Muslims and Highlanders. While we retained the identity and culture that we inherited from our ancestors, we had also expressed our desire to become a part of the mainstream. May the IBP take this into account as it continues its noble task of looking into the dispensation of justice in our country. Always, I guess, the question is, would this dispensation of justice promote harmony and peace? Always, I am sure, our guiding light is always the reality that, as the saying of the Wise goes, we did “not inherit this world from our parents”, rather, the better truth is that “we merely BORROWED this world from our CHILDREN”. Thank you and have a good day.