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Welcome Message During the Insight Visit to Datu Paglas


Assalamu Alaikum.

Ms. Peggy Dulany, Mr. Bruce Shearer, Mr. David Winder and Ms. Gina Velasco of The Synergos Institute, Sec. Dinky Soliman of DSWD, Mr. Ernie Garilao of AIM, Ms. Rina Lopez-Bautista of Sky Foundation, Messrs. Senen Bacani and Justo Santos of my investors La Frutera Inc., my fellow bridge leaders from ARMM and partners from PBSP, other honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to my hometown. It is indeed an honor for all the people of my town of Datu Paglas to be visited by you, very distinguished personalities from the public and private sectors.

Some of you may be well aware of the story of Datu Paglas due to media coverage, both local and international, that my town has been receiving. If I may quote some: International Alert says that “Datu Paglas has been pictured as a “miracle town”; Business Week said in October 2001, in relation to the Datu Paglas Story “Hopeful signs abound that peace, given a chance, could flourish in Mindanao.”; The Wall Street Journal in March 2001 says “ The Paglas success is taking on even greater importance as the U.S. brings its global war on terrorism to Southern Philippines… former MILF fighters now working at La Frutera (banana plantation) say they have no desire to return to fighting.” ; and one of the Philippines’ oldest magazine, Graphic, in its article “The Man Who Could Not Wait For Peace”, says of the plantation’s 2,000 employees, a good number of which are rebel members, sympathizers, even combatants, “… Muslims and Christians are living peacefully amid continuing inter-faith and ethnic dialogues… school enrollment more than tripled and youthful dreams now shifted from war exploits to upward mobility.”

I refer to these quotes with a bit of hesitation because they unavoidably refer to my “accomplishments” but, as my investors and well-meaning friends would tell me, this story needs to be shared because it “saves as a lamp that lights the path of others…”

The economic development framework of our initiative was regarded as a model for developing areas by the Moro conflict. It has always been our goal to demonstrate how business investment can facilitate peace and development in areas shattered of conflict like Maguindanao. Our case offers a model of departure from the traditional thinking that development can only be achieved if there is peace. Local development, as you may have already seen and shall also see during our tour around town, is the key to achieving peace and order. The logic behind is, in my humble opinion, simple: A person who has nothing more to lose is not afraid to kill and/or die but he who has a lot in life cannot afford to waste life nor take another person’s life.

With the same amount of enlightened self-interest and commitment from our investors, we are now trying to replicate what we have accomplished thus far in Paglas and in a similar, war-torn province of Lanao del Sur, particularly in the towns of Wao and Bumbaran where my investors are expanding in a $40 Million banana plantation.

Although the impact of armed conflict is much more felt in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), limiting private sector initiatives within the ARMM is actually losing sight of the bigger Mindanao problem. We simply cannot ignore the fact that people in the similarly conflict areas of Western and Central Mindanao also have very low per capita income, lesser access to basic services such as water and sanitation, electricity, health care and EDUCATION especially. Even in the relatively peaceful region of Southern Mindanao, there are pockets of armed conflict in those areas, with very high incidence of poverty, such as Davao Oriental.

Having stated all these facts about other parts of Mindanao, I now make an imperative call to my fellow Bridge Leaders and to the rest of the business sector, that they please seriously consider pouring their investments into Mindanao, the underdeveloped regions especially. Investments equate to job opportunities and jobs mean better living standards for Mindanaoans in terms of greater opportunities for families to avail of EDUCATION and health services. Rebuilding communities torn by war means building a stronger and more prosperous customer base for the business sector. And the benefits do not end here. This clearly points to the fact that the private sector has a moral as well as commercial interest in working for peace, to counter the socio-economic disruption that violent conflict imposes. Indeed, investing for peace makes excellent economic sense on the long-term.

Whenever I am invited to speak I always appeal that the government will continue to provide the enabling environment for private investments to ensure sustained economic growth, EDUCATION of our children being a sure beneficiary. To the donor institutions, it is my hope that more of their generous assistance will find their way to projects for the underdeveloped parts of Mindanao. I believe that it is only by establishing multi-sector partnerships can we be assured of equitable and sustained development, and eventually, lasting peace in Mindanao, thus the Philippines, and, on a broader scale, the Asia Pacific Region and then the world.

Thank you very much. Again, good afternoon, I wish you all a very productive and memorable visit,, and a safe journey back to home. I do not say goodbye… I say God Speed and may we meet again in the future, hopefully soon.