Datu Paglas, a predominantly Muslim Town in Maguindanao, has come a long way.

“Before, t was one of the more notorious towns in the province. There were killings almost everyday”. There were the words of no less than Maguindanao governor Zacaria A. Candao.

And What is Datu Paglas now?

“Today you will not see a single farmer here brandishing a firearms”, says Mamokhan Kaid, a Moro rebel now farming rice in the irrigated ricelands of municipality.

Many more have been said about Datu Paglas and those who have praised the way town is striving for development are people who do not even share the same religion with the majority of the town’s inhabitants. One of them is a Roman Catholic priest who is now a congressman of Cotabato Province’s second district, rep. Gregorio T. Ipong.

Congressman Ipong wanted local government executives in his province to emulate the Datu Paglas experience.

Some years back, just a mere mention of Datu Paglas would conjure up images of fighting between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gained foothold Datu Paglas.

But today it has gone a boom town; the boom no longer the :boom: that used to be when the secessionist rebels would literally explode bombs.

Today, Datu Paglas is one municipality which become the mirror of Muslim-Christian cooperation; Muslim-Christian peaceful co-existence; even Muslim-Israeli partnership.

How did all these things happen? All this came about because of one man, a scion of a family from whom the town got its name. He is former town mayor Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas III, the second child of a brood of six from the couple Datu Ibrahim Paglas Jr. (deceased) and Bai Aga Pendatun. He is married to Sheila Powers, a lady of Spanish-American decent.

The man who would be Datu Padlas’ top entrepreneur was first a politician being a former mayor. In fact he would have been a basketball star had he not been overtaken by politics.

When Datu Paglas was under former mayor Datu Ibrahim it was successfully veered away from being a “secessionist lair” into that of an area with hardly any crime rate.

The people responded to the call of the young local government executive that in Datu Paglas “Bawal ang Tamad”. This slogan earned the former mayor a ticket to the 1999 Ten Outstanding Men Award.

It was this realization by the youthful Toto Paglas that his town could became an economic center that led him and his family to set up the companies based in his hometown through its flagship Paglas group of Corp. or PAGCOR. And his family took pains in promoting and marketing the products of his companies in other countries.

One strategy the Paglas group management had adopted was to employ not only his Muslim brothers but Christians as well. Here was born the seed of cooperation that transcends religious belief and even forgetting previous animosities.

The saying “When it rains it pours” applies to Datu Paglas. Seeing good management and effective harnessing of the local people, a number of foreign funded projects have been located in the town. The most prominent of which is the multi-million banana plantation consisting of an initial 1,000 hectares of Cavendish type variety. The company is called the “La Frutera”, now a source of livelihood to more than 2,500 skilled and non-skilled Muslim and Christian workers coming not only from Datu Paglas but also from municipalities of nearby Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat Provinces.

La Frutera, the biggest investment by a foreign principal in Datu Paglas, prides itself to have links in Japan, as well as some countries in the Middle East and Europe. Israel in fact has provided technical support for Paglas engineers.

The Paglas group also pioneered in providing women equal opportunity for work. And these women are working in the many other companies that sprang out of what is now slowly turning into a conglomerate. The group now even includes a rural bank under the same name. The bank is branching out in Upi, Maguindanao.

If there is any boast people in Datu Paglas would repeat over and over again it is this transformation of both Christians and Muslims in the area: they are now prefer agricultural tools rather than guns as their “status symbol”

The Paglas group of Corporations has also shown that it can be a “company for others”. That it has a conscience; that it recognized its responsibility to the community.

When it was invited to join PBSP, there was no hesitation. Today PBSP can attest to the fact that the Datu Paglas experience is an unfading testimony of how a selfless leader can make a difference for the life of the people.

There may be several other Datu Paglas in the making. But their time has yet to come.