articles > speeches

“Kabataang Katutubo, Babangon at Kikilos Para sa Kaunlaran ng Bayang Pinagmulan”


To all of you young indigenous leaders and IP advocates, would-be champions of the challenge to restore the dignity of our indigenous tribes, as well as fellow stakeholders to this cause, I convey the universal greetings of peace, Assalamu Alaikum, Shalom, Peace of God Be Upon everyone, ang Kapayapaan ng Panginoong Diyos, ng Apo Magbabaya ay Mapasaatin lahat…!

I consider it a privilege that I am here to share with you the story of my life as a Muslim leader who had to struggle in the past because of the unfavorable if not notorious image of my town, practically a no-man’s land, a war-zone that saw bitter fights among feuding families and clans of revolutionary guerillas versus government forces, where lawless and criminal elements were very bold to do their “trade” – be it hold-ups, robbery, kidnappings, sometimes doing so even in broad daylight.

Today, actually starting the late 1980’s, Datu Paglas town had transformed into its present label as a zone of cross-cultural harmony, a bustling economic zone, showcased as a “living model” of how lasting peace can be attained thru sustainable economic development. Today, Datu Paglas is providing employment to more than 2,000 people, a good number of them are supporters, sympathizers, even active combatants, of the revolutionary group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Today, people of different races, culture and creed (Israelis with their technology, Americans with their marketing brand, Italians with their shipping network, Saudis with their trading expertise, Muslim and Christian workers/managers who contributed their corporate managerial skills) all work together to make the banana plantation attain its present status as a world-class, state-of-the-art producer of export quality Cavendish bananas.

Today, the story of my town is featured, talked about, not just locally but also in international media and other fora.

However, the challenges that I have passed through in achieving that goal were far from easy.

Everyday, we see a lot of bad news on television, read discouraging news in the papers, hear about the same in the radio. Quite sadly but is the reality, many of those bad news, particularly those that dwell on violence, peace and order problems, terrorism particularly, are linked to the Muslims, to the people of my faith. I wish to say it at this junction, that those who do so unfortunately misunderstand Islam but then I do not blame them for their innocent, mistaken belief.

It was therefore a challenge to me, a Muslim, to show that we are just like any other people on earth, be they indigenous tribes like those where you came from, or evolved civilizations or communities like those populated by hardworking settlers who progressed, who wish to live in peace and harmony, who wish to see a better life for ourselves and our families, who submit to the Will of the Apo Magbabaya, One and Only Creator, the God of us all, without discrimination as to race, religion, and creed.

In a simple realization that the people in my town deserve a better life, I began my first step towards facing this challenge and towards achieving what I truly want for my people; a peaceful place to live in and life that is satisfying.

I declared my humble belief that IF only we in the Philippine Muslim Region are economically developed, IF only my poor brothers and our poor villages and lands are productive, IF we are able to trade and do business with others, then we can co-exist with more pride and self-respect.

I also declared that IF only my poor brothers are better educated and adequately provided economically, then they can no longer be a fertile breeding ground to terrorism and other forms of criminality and lawlessness.

Realization then brought me to decide that I must let investments take place in my town because I know it will lead to sustainable development. I have achieved this with the help and guidance of my elders, and in particular my dear uncle Hashim Salamat, former Chairman of the MILF.

I remember them now with gratitude. Salamat advised me to always consider the following when I consulted with him about my decision to let investments come in:

  1. “protect the environment at any cost because this is all we have for the next generation,”
  2. “do not abuse the workers, protect their rights and look after their welfare and safety,” and lastly,
  3. “provide education for the children.”

It was also my mission to BRIDGE the economic, social, and political divide among the tri-peoples in Mindanao (Muslims, Christians, and Highlanders), and to fulfill this, I knew I had to change the rules of the game:

  • When the convention dictates that the Datus are the only people who can make sound decisions for the people, I encouraged dialogues and consensus among local folks.
  • I brought everyone’s concerns on the table… the government, the military, the religious leaders, the workers, the rebels and even the lawless elements, because I believed that what each of these groups have to say is of great value.
  • We often had difficulty welcoming new ideas and new ways. We did not want “outsiders” in our territory. But again, this system did not work for us. We therefore built partnerships with as many groups as possible, regardless of culture, faith, and ideologies.
  • I was brought up in culture where guns and goons define a Man’s “status in the society.” I challenged that convention. At first, I was not comfortable because it was “not the normal thing” to go around town without bodyguards. My personal campaign took a toll on me. I lost my father and 3 brothers due to violence and lawlessness.
  • I was brought up in a culture of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” Throughout my growing years, I was witness to vengeance killings (we call “RIDO”) among clans, perpetuated throughout the succeeding generations. I decided that this “culture of hatred” and cycle of violence MUST STOP. Therefore, when my father and younger brothers became murder victims, I decided to accept that it was their fate, their time had come, God had Allowed it to happen, and I must forgive. I left justice to the laws and to the authorities.
  • The investment that we established in Datu Paglas allowed us Muslims to prove our worth, whether it be as a leader, as a follower, as an employer, as a worker, as a professional, or simply as a responsible citizen in out communities.

    In closing may I just leave you these simple, but honest thoughts. Continue to LISTEN to what other people have to say --- LEARN from the WISDOM of their stories --- as for me, they gave me great inspiration to continue to improve, to be a BETTER leader.

    My very dear young Indigenous Leaders, I claim affinity to your tribes. A legend of my own tribe, the Maguindanaoans of Mindanao, has it that we all came from one father. One came down to the lowlands, and became the origin of the people of the lowlands. The other one stayed in the mountains and became your ancestors. I had always considered you as my brethren. I had declared this affinity in certain occasions that I was in the highlands of Bukidnon, also same in Davao and Cotabato.

    I am with you in the aspiration that the Indigenous Peoples be able to regain the glory and dignity of our very rich culture. May this humble sharing be of benefit to you and many thanks for inviting me to join you in this wonderful occasion.

    Insha-Allah, may the ever-generous Apo Magbabaya Bless us all.



    Datu Toto Paglas