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I convey to the reader of this letter, the universal greetings of peace: Shalom, Assalamu Alaikum, Peace of God Be Upon everyone, Ang Kapayapaan ng Panginoong Diyos Ay Mapasa-ating Lahat, Ang Kalinaw sa Ginoo, sa Apo Magbabaya maanaa kanatong tanan.

The subject of today’s event, is very meaningful to me as I believe it also is to all of you, and even more relevant to us in Mindanao, with its favorable weather condition and other agricultural attributes and mass of would-be Farm workers. With those as background, I will share my thoughts on the subject, the same of which I relate directly to the transformation of my own town, a town that was torn by war and criminality in the not so distant past, but with the Grace of Allah, is now a bustling and peaceful economic village.

You had seen the video about my town’s story, Alhamdullilah, Praise God Almighty. How did we do it? What did the town of Datu Paglas have that other equally situated, in fact “less notorious” towns, did not have?

The challenge is how to exploit our God-given natural resources that Allah, swt, in all His Graciousness, Had Gifted Mindanao with. These are, among others, year-round weather that is ideal to fruit farming, fertile soil, and sufficient rainfall. And equally more important is the abundance of “warm bodies” in our villages, mostly poor people who are more than willing and happy to welcome work and livelihood opportunities. Just like in the case of the La Frutera banana plantation in Datu Paglas, for everyone that is employed, there’s easily ten others who desire to also be employed.

As we aspire for progress, it is very important that we think of the people, who aspire for a better world not just for ourselves but especially for the succeeding generations. On occasions like this, I always remember a saying of the Wise: “…we did not just inherit this world from our parents, we also borrowed it from our children….”. For truly, when progress is talked about, as it was so in my town of Datu Paglas, foremost in my mind are the children of my town and my people, of your towns too and the people there.

Despite the above mentioned natural blessings, what else do we need to do, in order that nature’s blessed Mindanao may also have a fair share of progress that a Palm Oil industry may surely bring. (there’s reportedly more than 5 million hectares in Malaysia, 3 million plus hectares in Indonesia, and around 600, 000 hectares “late-comer” Papua New Guinea (In contrast, by my own understanding, we have less than 50, 000 hectares in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao). As my town’s story has shown, Corporate Investing is one such major approach. Yes my dear friends, guest, brothers and sisters, Corporate Investors are an indispensable part of economic progress. It is them, who have the proven financial and capital resources, technological skills, management skills, market contacts, among others.

In all humility, I say that next to God’s Blessings, it is ENTREPRENEURSHIP, as far as my own experience and perspective is concerned, that played a pivotal role, the turning point, in my town’s transformation for the better.

There are many definitions of an Entrepreneur, this is the one I prefer. It means an INNOVATOR, it is one who recognizes OPPORTUNITIES and organizes resources to take advantage of the opportunity. In another way of saying, our attitude in the way we view things is a big factor.

Yes, we have to possess the right ATTITUDE. I am definitely not in the position to prescribe what should be done in other people’s situation. Allow me, however, to share my own story, my Concrete Experience, hoping that from it, one may find from this experience how one’s own story may also unfold, in one’s own circumstance.

People often ask, what made the “Datu Paglas Story” happen? It started with the realization that the life of my people must change for the better. But then, that change must also start with myself, the leader. Then, private investments, which I know was the sustainable way to economic development in my own case, must come in. Then, for investments to come in, I must have a “business plan”.

My elders, and in particular my dear late uncle Hashim Salamat, former Chairman of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front who returned to our Creator 3 years ago, had the following three things to say which I then adopted as Guiding Principles, when I proposed to them my “business plan”, which basically was 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
  3. provide education for the children.

Principle 1, allowed me to operate in a way that is acceptable not only to my international shareholders while it also looked after my moral obligation to the community and the future generation, to ensure preservation of our resources. For me this is more than just a business case, this is very personal too.

Principle 2, allowed me to work within the parameters not only of government regulations but a commitment as well to the teachings of God, thru His different Messengers and lived by different religions.

And the Third Principle, I will continue to invest in the future of our children. I believe and I have seen this myself ---- that poverty and economic inequality are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. But a healthy and well-educated generation will be the most positive and powerful tool to attain lasting peace, and to preserve the earth’s resources. Let me repeat these very meaningful words, “we did not simply inherit this world from our parents, the better truth is that: we merely borrowed this world from our children”.

Why Corporate Investment for the development of our Palm Oil Industry? The Datu Paglas Experience and the investor’s having decided to expand in Lanao del Sur had shown that our Muslim Region particularly, where there’s still huge tracks of undeveloped, fertile lands, can be a host to investments. Our valuable autonomy can also be an effective tool to make our Region more responsive to the highly competitive times, when other Regions not just in the Philippines but also our neighbors in Asia, are also competing to offer better terms, to attract investors to bring their resources (money, technology, market access, among others).

The investment that we established in Datu Paglas allowed us Muslims, and same should be true to the rest of us, aspiring, entrepreneurial Filipinos, 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. We earned the trust of our investors.

Please allow me to make a pitch for ARMM while I have this chance: there has for some time now, been an awakening among us different sectors in ARMM, both private and public. Even our different regional agencies in ARMM had proven to the world that they can render very competitive support to investments. This was acknowledged and announced by no less than the country manager of our investors, when he shared his own personal experience about his investments in ARMM, during the ARMM Business Congress in Jolo, Sulu 3 years ago. At this juncture, let me thank those “brave souls” who “dared” to start their modest palm oil plantings in my town of Datu Paglas, as well as other communities around what was once the Empire Province of Cotabato. I will not mention their names because they may prefer to remain “nameless and faceless” out of modesty, May God Almighty Bless all of you.

Yes, there are a thousand and one good reasons why corporate investors should be attracted to help develop our Palm Oil Industry. BUT, the challenge is upon us to make it happen. We just need to continue doing our best, to make ourselves competitive, and the investors will come in due time. In fact some of them already did, while they continue to observe what we are doing in our little ways.

May this little sharing of personal concrete experience and humble insight have even a little contribution to our Forum. Thank you once again and wassalamu-alaikum, God Bless all of us.