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This is a special message, from my heart I dare say, to all of you the graduates, who to me are young leaders in your own rights. You are, as the great Malay and hero Jose Rizal was quoted to have said, “the future of the next generations,” to help make this world a better place for our children, a world of peace, love, and harmony… a world that believes in The One and Only Creator, called in the most Majestic Names by the respective different languages on earth: GOD or ALMIGHTY or DIVINE PROVIDENCE in English, ALLAH in Arabic, DIYOS or PANGINOON or GINOO or BATHALA or POONG MAYKAPAL to native Philippine dialects, TUHAN to the Malays (Indonesia/Malaysia), DIO to the Italians, GOTT to the Germans, APO MAGBABAYA to the Highlanders of Mindanao, YAHWEH or JEHOVAH to the Jews, to mention some.

To you graduates, and to the officers and members of the Board of Trustees, administrative officers, heads of academic departments, the rest of the staff and others, all of you who help make the Davao Medical School Foundation an outstanding institution of service to humanity, I convey to all of you, the universal greetings of peace: Assalamu Alaikum, Shalom, Peace of God Be Upon everyone, and Kapayapaan ng kaisa-isang Panginoong Diyos ay Mapasa-ating lahat, ang Kalinaw sa Ginoo Maanaa Kanatong Tanan.

When Doc Evelyn (Alabado) first broached to me the idea of my speaking before you today, I could hardly believe it, although I never doubted her seriousness. I said, how could I be the “right person” to speak when I am not in the medical profession. I am a farmer turned businessman. I consulted a Christian friend, a dear brother, and he said “Datu, healing, which doctors are traditionally identified with, need not only be physical.” I also then recalled that Doc Evelyn said it was more my story, which is the story of my town’s transformation from a “sick and dying one” into its present state of peace, enjoying the economic boom, now the focus of observation by curious observers, considered a “living showcase” of how sustainable economic development can help lasting peace.

My formerly sick and dying town may now be considered fully healed. Rebels and former lawless elements are now living a normal life with their families. Vehicular traffic pass through the town of Datu Paglas 24-hours a day, unthinkable in the not-so-distant past when ordinary travelers would not even dare pass this once-dreaded highway after 3pm because they could be held-up or ambushed which were not uncommon occurrences then.

Today, Datu Paglas is a melting pot of people of different culture, races, and creed, all living together in peace, working together in contentment and gratitude to the Almighty, bound by the common objective of sustaining the banana plantation and other economic activities because it provides them food for their tables, education for the children, shelter and clothing for the family, in short a new life, a hope for the future.

What has brought about the transformation of Datu Paglas? I guess it started with the realization that the people in my town deserve a better life, that they need to reform, in the same manner certainly that patients need to be cured.

Modesty aside, I was not born poor although ever since my younger days I had always found natural affinity with the house helpers, drivers and bodyguards of my parents. Because of this, I had seen the glaring divide that separated the “Muslim nobilities” from the “common families”. I was tired of seeing the same vicious cycle of violence and poverty. I wanted to try something new because the traditional “Muslim way” of leading our people was not working for the poor.

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.

My personal transformation could not have happened without the help of my elders, and in particular my dear uncle Hashim Salamat, former Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who returned to our Creator few years ago. 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.”

Many say it is a “great, inspiring story” but, again, what has the Datu Paglas Story got to do with the subject of graduating doctors? A very good question indeed. Trying to find a deeper meaning to why I am with you today, let me then relate this to what my Christian friend-brother had said, healing need not only be physical. As the story of my town had illustrated, lives and families and even an entire community need also to be healed. Now that the people in my town are already earning a living, they are now properly fed, their children are able to go to school. As the wisdom of the old folks say, “food, shelter, and education help provide a healthy body and a healthy mind”.

My town’s and my life’s transformation for the better, may relate to how you, new doctors, may have to view your profession. What you and me may have in common as a calling by the Almighty, whether we realize it or not, is that we need to serve others, especially the less fortunate. My Christian brother asked me to remember this quote of the Lord Jesus Christ, Nabbi Issa in my Muslim faith, “for whatsoever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me”. Even in the book of my faith, the Holy Quran, Jesus offered His Life to the service of humanity, in absolute, unquestioning Obedience to the Will of the Almighty from Who He Directly came. This is a timely recollection and reflection indeed because the Christian world has just observed the Holy Week. A belated Happy Easter to my Christian brothers and sisters by the way.

(Please let me state at this point, for the benefit of those who do not know it, that we Muslims are also followers of the teachings written in the Torah of the Jews – incorporated in the Old Testament, as well as the Gospels or New Testament, although we also have our Holy Quran which teachings are NOT inconsistent with the earlier-said two books. We Muslims, or specifically Muslim-Filipinos, are just like any other people on earth who wish to live in peace and harmony, who wish to see a better life for ourselves and for our families. We submit to the Will of the One and Only Creator, the God of all).

Indeed, as you go out into the communities, especially the poor communities, where people, especially the poor people, need your medical attention, you shall find that many of them may not have the finances to buy pharmaceutical medicines that commonly nowadays are already beyond the reach of the less privileged. It is ironic that a poor patient could even get more sick, just trying to find the money so that they can buy the prescribed medicines, or be able to pay the hospital bills, and their families get stressed and perhaps also get sick in the process. Even more hurting, especially to their loved ones, are the cases, no longer uncommon nowadays, where the sick ends up dying despite the medical attention that both the family and the doctors had tried their best to give. The bereaved family end up losing, aside from a loved one, valuable properties, even their homes, because these were mortgaged or sold just to defray the cost of medicine and hospitalization.

I could only reminisce the days of our parents and grandparents, when the world was a healthier place to live in, and medical treatments were not expensive. Health hazards then, during the earlier times especially, were not as severe as they are now, because we are now living in a much more “TOXIC generation” – harmful chemicals in practically every component of our life, be they water, food, household items. Even our computers, appliances, cell phones, are said to have health hazards due to radiation, IF and only IF of course, we overindulge in them.

Our dear young and new physicians, I prefer to consider you as HEALERS. It is a much deeper word. I prefer to believe that cure to sickness, even physical sickness, is not confined to medicines only, and medicine need not be pharmaceutical medicines only. As they say, a happy, contented mind and spirit contribute to the health of the physical body. I now remember an elder who said the best “medicine” is good, especially natural, food.

My dear Christian brother and friend had shared with me the beautiful story in a movie titled Patch Adams by Robin Williams. I unfortunately missed it just like perhaps many of you. I look forward to see it myself, just as I guess those of you who missed it may find the same movie worthwhile to watch. In that movie, Dr. Patch reportedly would feel the affliction and pain of his patient as if he himself is sick. He would treat them as if he was treating himself, and feel cured if they get cured. He unfortunately was branded as “being different, being “unconventional” in treating his patients, not so much with commercial medicines but by his love for them, humoring them when they can be humored, crying with them when they are in pain, etc.

Unconventional one may say, but I still could relate to it because I too, had to get out of convention of “what a Muslim Datu is”, in my own path in life, as I did my own seeking of certain truths about life. I remember that my own elders in the Muslim faith would admonish me whenever I would give out Christmas cards, but then it is merely my way of expressing appreciation for Christian friends who would join me celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadhan, aside from the fact of course that I view Christmas as a Season that symbolizes joy, hope, sharing. I would be admonished by them when I treasured a copy of the Holy Bible, but then it was my way of expressing appreciation for dear Christian brothers who considered themselves enriched in their being a Christian when they learned from my Holy Quran. We have to be in the side of truth, because in the end it is Truth that will set us free, and being at peace with others regardless of religion, is one such truth. I always believe that God Makes no distinction as to religion. My personal bottom line is, there is only One God. He is the Beginning and the End. We all came from Him, we all return to Him Only. We are in this world for a life that is very short. Baka nga hindi na tayo magising bukas, huwag naman sana but then it is the truth. As reportedly said in the Bible, “death comes like a thief in the night”, we do not know when it happens, but it could happen anytime.

Perhaps reexamining our convictions in life is how we move on with life, this is how we get to be of more service to others. If there is anything good we can do we need to do it now, today, in every day that God Gives Generously to us. You young and new doctors have a special mission, a golden opportunity, a special privilege, to make a big difference in people’s lives. After all, health is wealth. It is an irony and it is sad, that as said by a Wise Man, a person would sometimes compromise his health just to attain material wealth, but then at a later stage in his life, he could consume his material wealth trying to regain his lost health. Perhaps you can have this in mind and share these things with your patients when you come face to face with them.

Perhaps you can share with them the need to have a healthy lifestyle, eating the right food, appreciating God’s abundant Blessings, not worrying, just be contented as we strive to work hard for a better life. In effect, it would be more fulfilling if you give them not just your medical skill, but better yet, if you share yourself with them, I mean not just sympathizing but really empathizing, with them. I had only recently learned the difference between these two words, the second one meaning that if the patients bleed, empathizing means we feel as if we too are bleeding, if they cry then we feel those tears to be ours, if they rejoice then we jump with joy for them.

Like I said earlier, things could always change for the better, IF we start that kind of change in ourselves. Conventions could change for the better, as it did in my own story. Same conventions in your profession could also change for the better, for the benefit of your patients, and for the succeeding batch of physicians-HEALERS who may be inspired by the impact you hopefully shall have on the lives of the poor.


Thank you once again and Wassalamu-alaikum, God Bless all of us.