A Commentary About Datu Toto Paglas and Our Evaluation of Him Based On The Excellent “Criteria for Selection of Administration Candidate for the ARMM”
An email sent by Datu Abdulrashid Elian Macala of the CORE GROUP of Concerned Sectors of Civil Society in ARMM.  
 

We represent a Core Group of Concerned Sectors of Civil Society. We hereby submit for appreciation of all stakeholders to peace and economic development in ARMM, our objective evaluation of Datu Toto, based on the Criteria from the Selection Committee for Administration Candidate for ARMM. 

We had earlier circulated a document called “A Brotherly Call for Datu Toto Paglas to Continue Being of Service to the Cause of Sustainable Economic Development Thru Lasting Peace, By Agreeing To Run As Candidate for Governor of ARMM”.  That move was sincerely meant to convince Datu Toto to run for governor in this year’s ARMM elections, whether administration candidate or not.  We did that, knowing that he consistently refused to express interest to join politics, understandably so because of what unfortunately happened to his ARMM governatorial bid in 2001, and his having accepted the reality of elections for governor in ARMM and that is, based on history, only the administration candidate becomes governor. 

We however, were heartened to know that on February 28, 2005 the Search Committee had formally invited Datu Toto to submit himself to the selection process for administration candidate for ARMM governor.  We were even more heartened to know that Datu Toto had responded favorably to that invitation, and had in fact, complied with the required submission of his Curriculum Vitae and Proposed program of government for the ARMM.    

We had obtained early this month a copy of the well thought-of “Adopted Criteria for Selection of Administration Candidate for the ARMM”, that seeks to address the major governance challenges facing the Region.  This Criteria was issued by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. We see it to be an excellent standard of measure for the next ARMM governor.  Going thru these Criteria, it is very clear that Datu Toto is basically our best widely acceptable, and available man for this job.   

Although he is enjoying the economic bounty of his plantation in Datu Paglas, he continued to actively support his foreign investors’ projects in Lanao del Sur, as well as local development and peace initiatives with other GMA ARMM Movers and NGO’s in Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, aside from involvement with other projects especially among the highlander tribes of Bukidnon.  Although he did not become governor during the 2001 ARMM elections, still he continued to privately do these initiatives, not just in his town of Datu Paglas, but in the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi and Basilan and Lanao del Sur, without any publicity, and using his personal resources and sources.  

During the 2001 ARMM elections, he personally led the call for an end to the campaign-related bickering, and for all sectors to support the “emerging Regional governor and his team” although they still had to be proclaimed.  Then he actively supported his former electoral opponent the Honorable ARMM Governor Parouk Hussein in the new governor’s challenging task particularly in the peace initiative vis-à-vis the MILF.   

He is a symbol of mature politics, of sportsmanship (even Madame Beth Romulo, wife of the late former U.N. Secretary General Carlos Romulo, peace of Allah Be Upon Him, wrote in the Bulletin Today in December 2001, an article admiring Datu Toto’s political maturity).  The message of his, titled “Life Goes On, Don’t Worry & Be Happy”, published in major dailies, eloquently shows this.  And although he was disappointed upon realizing that the “full might” of Malacañang was used to ensure that his opponent becomes the next governor, still he rallied his supporters, and unselfishly led the way, in continuing to support the President’s programs, even heading an active group of key ARMM Movers who pursued earnestly the laudable Job Creation Program of GMA, like the Hybrid Rice Program, under Secretary Cito Lorenzo.                                                                                                                               

Following is our objective evaluation of Datu Toto, based on the said Criteria from the Search Committee for Administration Candidate for ARMM:  

  1. Peace Orientation”:

      a. Full understanding of and support for the peace process in pursuit of the   negotiated settlement of
         all armed conflict and genuine reconciliation of all parties/communities in conflict.

-   He has been a “favorite unofficial channel” for the peace processes since the time of Presidents Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo.  To cite a few examples: 

    a.1) Ramos - His family’s closeness to Ramos, dating back to the military   years of the former president who, as a junior officer assigned in Mindanao,  would occasionally visit Toto’s father, helped to keep the MILF open to FVR’s strategy of attaining peace thru the negotiating table; 

a.2) Estrada - Erap appointed Datu Toto as Vice-Chairman of the Mindanao Coordinating Council (Estrada was Chairman), a “superbody” created by the Estrada government to implement a “mini-Marshall Plan” which would help rehabilitate and/or develop the conflict areas after Estrada’s all-out war at Camp Abubakar in 2000.  This helped appease the then MILF Chairman Salamat and his key commanders who felt betrayed by Estrada’s having attacked Camp Abubakar and were expected to retaliate (but did not, and in fact expressed approval of Estrada government’s decision to rehabilitate the war-damaged areas); 

a.3)  GMA - He was the one who silently went straight to Salamat, peace of Allah be on him, upon the request of GMA thru Sec Dureza, invoking his personal privilege as a relative, to convey the admirable act of GMA (she did it on the first week of her assuming the presidency from Erap) to bring back the MILF to the peace table, which the MILF pulled out from after Estrada’s all out war.  Salamat accepted GMA’a gesture “only because it was Toto who brought it to him” otherwise he would have continued to refuse overtures for dialogue from the government as he was still nursing the hurt over Estrada’s attack on Abubakar; 

a.4) GMA (after Buliok) - When war again broke out in Buliok, he silently shuttled between the government and military on one side, and the MILF on      the other, trying to convince both sides to restraint.  He even served as        volunteer emissary, walking 7 hours thru the dense new jungle hide-out of Salamat, in order that the call of CBCP for a ceasefire be conveyed directly to the MILF Chairman and adopted by the military and MILF.  The CBCP appeal was heeded by Salamat who initiated MILF’s unilateral Suspension of Military Activity (SOMA), responded in a spirit of goodwill by the government and military, which eventually resulted in the resumption of the ongoing peace talks.  We know that the Honorable Secretary Deles was among the peace advocates at  that time who, just like Datu Toto, silently did work as volunteers for peace, without any publicity 

    a.5)  He even officially served as a Consultant to the Presidential Assistant on the 
     GRP-MILF Process, Secretary Dureza.
 

       b) “Strict adherence to the rule of law and the administration of justice for all.”  

b.1) Many of his dear rebel relatives were killed by the military, yet he did  not harbor any hatred against the men in uniform, taking guidance  from his uncle Salamat, that “the soldiers at the frontline were only doing their lawful duties to follow orders from the authorities, and that deaths at the battlefront do happen to either side of the combat, reminding Toto that the soldiers also died from MILF fire” 

b.2 When his father and 2 young brothers died of violence, and another brother became a victim of traffic accident, he did not “take justice into his own hands” as almost everyone thought he would do (common among the “Muslim culture”), contrary to what his other relatives wanted to do (eye for an eye).  He forgave the perpetrators and allowed the lawful authorities to deal with the incidents; 

b.3)  When he was urged to lead or support mass actions in Manila and other cities of Mindanao to denounce the “massive cheating” in the 2001 ARMM elections, he calmed down his agitated supporters, including his rebel relatives, realizing that those mass actions could turn out to civil disturbance or violence when exploited by other agendas. He filed a “Protest” as provided for by electoral law, a mere symbolic act to put the election bitterness to rest once and for all. (see his published Message mentioned earlier herein); 

  1.  “Visible and felt presence on the ground and at the forefront of action during crisis  

-  we could no longer count the number of flash-points, or near encounters   wherein Datu Toto had been of help. 
   We cite a few:
 

 2.a)  Those mentioned in 1.a.3 and 1.a.4 herein; 

 2.b) When GMA badly needed the Chinese kidnapping issue resolved before she left for Beijing 2 plus years ago, Datu Toto personally but silently  negotiated for their safe release, without asking for any money from the government.  He dealt with the kidnappers according to the Maguindanao culture, he personally paid the “blood money’ that was demanded.  GMA had thanked him (reported in the national dailies) for that particular role he played, in the safe and smooth release of the hostages before she left for Beijing; 

 2.c)  When Manero’s repeated escape from jail had continuously embarrassed the government, it was Datu Toto who was asked to persuade him to peacefully  return to the authorities, which he successfully although quietly, did and  succeeded, reported in the natural dailies thereafter; 

 2.d) Several instances of near shoot-outs (stand-offs) between fighters (be they military versus MILF or one armed clan against the other), it would not be uncommon for Datu Toto to be the best person who could diffuse the tension when he puts himself personally in the middle of those contending groups;           

2.e) During the crises triggered by possible execution of hostaged Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan, Datu Toto was confidentially (in order not to jeopardize the delicate negotiation) asked by the negotiators to write a Brotherly Appeal (see copy) to the Afghan kidnappers.  Toto did so, and when Nayan was released, he was quoted in media (including the CNN), to have especially mentioned Datu Toto among those he thanked for helping in his release.  It was reported that the kidnappers’ treatment of him greatly improved after they received Toto’s letter.  

  1. Management Capability

3.a)    “Technical Knowledge and understanding of
          the challenges and tasks of  effective autonomous governance
 

He ran for governor of ARMM in 2001 and was highly favored. He has BASIC technical knowledge and EXTENSIVE understanding of the tasks of effective autonomous governance; During the 2001 ARMM elections, he published Our Philosophy of Governance, that also touches on the “Major Challenges to the ARMM” as enumerated in the OPAPP’s                      

Selection Criteria for ARMM Elections, plus more other concerns that he had already identified at that time.  This illustrates that as early as 2001, he already seriously appreciated the challenges of governance in the ARMM. 

3.b) Knowledge of and capability to run the bureaucracy 

           He was mayor for 3 full terms in his town of Datu Paglas, and it was during his term that his town had experienced outstanding governance, and the resulting economic turn-around and lasting peace that followed; 

3.c) Proven ability to deliver results 

            The internationally famous “Datu Paglas Story” and his many other private initiatives in support of government
            and civil society’s quest for peace and economic development, are the best testimonials themselves.
 

  1. Political leadership and skills to elicit consensus and cooperation on the levels of:

a)      “Regional Cabinet and Regional Legislative Assembly”

b)      ARMM LGUs

c)      National Government, both executive and legislative

d)      International Community, especially the OIC 

4.1  His being a Datu, in whose blood is merged the lineages of different clans among
                   the Maranaos and Maguindanaos;
 

4.2 The marriage of the Paglas and Loong children (where PGMA and the  Ambassadors of United Kingdom and U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia and Iran, to name some, were among the long list of VERY important local and international people, revered leaders in their respective fields of endeavor who were adopted as members of the Paglas and Loong families, an adoption considered sacred by their tradition) thus expands that influence of affinity, among the Tausugs and other peoples of Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan on the ARMM side.  And within a broad range of local and international sectors of industry, government, and society in general; 

4.3 His very active involvement in initiatives for peace and economic development had brought him into past and most still ongoing, exposures to top decision makers at the local and national governments; 

4.4 He worked directly with his foreign investors from U.S.A., Italy and Saudi Arabia, as well as from Iran, Brunei and Israel.  He collaborates with foreign institutions like the Islamic Development Bank, British Chamber of Commerce and the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, Philippine  Business for Social Progress (where he is the Chairman of the Advisory Committee of its Business and Peace Program), to name some;  

4.5 He was accepted to the very exclusive, highly-selective, strictly by-invitation     only, Eisenhower Fellowships.  During the 8-week period starting March 21,   2005, he will be at the U.S.A. with 24 other young leaders from all over the world.  During this time, Datu Toto shall be meeting with key sectors and top   leaders of Institutions that decides on key policy issues that affect the Philippines particularly, as well as institutions that provide funding to developmental projects in the Philippines, to name some; 

4.6 January and February this year, economic & trade delegations from Iran and Saudi Arabia visited the Philippines, both delegates had Datu Toto featured as the only Muslim business-leader who spoke on the matter of peace and economic development.

  1. Broad acceptability and perceived sense of fairness

    5.a) Across the different tribes/ethno-linguistic groups 

He has relationships by blood and by affinity to the major tribes in ARMM (Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausugs and Yakans) as earlier discussed;              

                5.b) Across the tri-peoples: Muslim, Christian, Lumad 

He is famous for his policy and principle on cross-cultural harmony.  The CBCP regards him highly, he supported the Bishops when the latter tried to broker a ceasefire among the military and MILF after the “Buliok war in 2002”.  He helped an old Jewish lady fulfill her dream of distributing Bibles in the Philippines, a gesture that was deemed “controversial” by some of his more traditional elders, but approved of even by his late uncle, former MILF Chairman Salamat.  He sends out Christmas cards and Christmas CD’s to Christian friends every year; he had willingly extended financial and other assistance to certain Christian groups who wanted to build their chapels.  He is an adopted son of the major highlander tribes in Mindanao, tracing a common fatherhood among the Maguindanaos and Lumads, (a humanitarian Foundation in Bukidnon had published the picture of Datu Toto along with the other tribal people in their calendars during the last 2 years).  Even U.S. President George Bush had taken note of Toto’s policy on cross cultural harmony, and had sent him a personal letter of thanks last year. 

              5.c)  Vis-à-vis the MNLF and the MILF           

As almost everyone knows, former MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim was his uncle, and a huge number of MNLF and MILF supporters, sympathizers, and even active commanders and combatants are his relatives.  A good number of them had returned to the mainstream, living normal lives by working in his investors’ banana plantations in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. Ironically, he had maintained his strong rapport with the military, he was even adopted honorary member of the Philippine Military Academy (Class 83).  And his rebel relatives do not take it against him. 

  1. Transparency and accountability in handling and management
  2. of assistance of
     national government and foreign donors

He had succeeded where others had failed, in convincing the discerning foreign investors to entrust their major investments to his leadership, without any government guarantee, and these investors continue to entrust their investment decisions on him.  His opinion is solicited by foreign institutions regarding the local situation, particularly in relation to “Muslim Culture” and the peace and order situation.  

  1. Untainted by any major scandal or corruption charge

Whether government funds (when he was mayor for 3 terms) or investor money, he had proven his trustworthiness. 

We submit the foregoing assessment about Datu Toto, at best we know it, firmly believing that ARMM deserves and should have him as governor.  We know he does not need it for popularity because he is already “bigger than life, a living icon” both in the Philippines and particularly abroad.  He was featured in major events held by the United Nations, Canadian International Development Agency, World Bank and International Finance Corporation, trade and economic delegation visits, to name some.  He had spoken in various international events not just in Asia, but in far away countries like Los Angeles, U.S.A., and in Stockholm, Sweden.  He maybe the only one among the different identified aspirants who is an awardee to The Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines, as well nominated to the very prestigious The Outstanding People of the World (Sapporo, Japan in 2001).  And, starting late this month, the world-prestigious Eisenhower Fellowships.                                                                                                                                                           

He is a living model to us, his succeeding generation of leaders.  We know he is a source of pride and satisfaction to his elders and to our elders who love him as much as we do.  He is already very popular. 

He does not need to be ARMM governor in order to gain material wealth.  He already has that.  He and his family, are already “made for life”, to the envy of our other elders-politicians in the ARMM who, with all our due to respect them, while enjoying the perks of power during their incumbencies, have “nothing left” when they bow out of politics.  Datu Toto had shown us a better way to regain our self-respect, and that is by NOT depending on government money which is short to start with but rather, by making ourselves and our lands productive thru self help.  This way, we help ourselves thus, help the government whose limited resources should not be overburdened unnecessarily, by our dependence when we should be the one helping ourselves. 

              Datu Toto would say elections, particularly the campaign phase, are divisive. He is right.  However, he had also shown during the past political exercises, particularly the one in 2001, that a person can find his shining moments in the manner they deal with “defeats”.  That by exhibiting the highest levels of sportsmanship he, the “loser”, actually emerged a winner as he did.  By rallying behind the new governor, as illustrated in that exemplary post-election message, Dr. Hussin had also quickly reconciled to Datu Toto and embraced him as a true brother. 

ARMM needs Datu Toto”, this is a quote often heard from the many, not just from his local followers, but from highly revered leaders in society, both in the Philippines and abroad.  We join them in saying it.  He had been serving the cause of peace thru economic development even as a private citizen since 1998 when he graduated from politics as a 3-term mayor.   

Insha-Allah, may God Permit It.

Allahu-Akbar, God Is Great.

Alhamdullilah, Praise the Lord God Almighty.