Toto Paglas, 47, the “best governor the ARMM never had”
MARAWI CITY (MindaNews) — “The best governor the ARMM never had.” “The Muslim-Christian bridge builder.” “The Man Who Couldn’t Wait for Peace.” “The Datu in Sandals and Denims.”
Days before the 6th elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, accolades were poured on businessman Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas III, 47, in a Mindanao e-group on news two days ago that he was in the intensive care unit of the Davao Doctors Hospital for meningitis.
He was actually in coma and passed away at around 2:15 p.m. yesterday.
As mayor of Datu Paglas town, Paglas followed Olongapo’s Richard Gordon by displaying huge “Bawal ang Tamad sa Datu Paglas” (Lazy people not allowed in Datu Paglas).
Datu Toto Paglas, center, with Rotarian friends from Davao City, Edgar Bullecer, left, and Samuel Labang.
He left the mayoralty to go fulltime in his banana export business, hiring former rebels in his plantations.
He ran twice for regional governor of the ARMM: in 2001 as an independent, against Parouk Hussin, Malacañang’s anointed, and in 2005 under the Liberal Party banner against Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan.
Lawyer Suharto “Teng” Ambolodto refers to Paglas as “the best regional governor ARMM never had.”
He lost in the two regional elections.
But he won audiences and was featured in national and foreign dailies.
Banana Boy Goes Big
“Bawal ang tamad sa Paglas (Maguindanao),” was Toto’s famous line pasted on the walls of his factories – one that brought the banana magnate coverage with the story of his project, the La Frutera banana plantation in Datu Paglas town, Maguindanao, a success story of arms to farms, where former Muslim rebels worked with Christian and highlanders as factory workers.
In the late 1980s , the young mayor took firm steps to halt the spiral of violence. Using his status as MILF chair Salamat Hashim’s nephew, he persuaded MILF commanders to work and earn. He went after criminals with a fierceness that stunned townsfolk.
Then he started the harder job of persuading investors to come in. His first attempts were failures. Paglas persevered. Strangers came to the rescue. He managed to convince investors from Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United States (represented by Chiquita) to invest in La Frutera banana plantation.
To everyone’s surprise, the venture, established in 1996, took off. Within four years, Paglas sprang another surprise, bringing in an Israeli engineering firm to provide irrigation technology. La Frutera then broke the world record for the heaviest bunch of bananas. In 2001, it exported 5.3 million boxes of bananas to China, South Korea, the Middle East and Japan.
With his entrepreneurial spirit as Chief Executive Officer and President of the Paglas Group of Companies , he was able to attract millions of investments for his far-flung hometown introducing agricultural enterprise, banking, cooperativism, and information technology.
Standing at 6’2, usually clad in white shirt and denims belying his royal lineage and riches, Toto became a favorite speaker of Makati businessmen as he spoke of a Southern region brimming with hope. Mixing Tagalog and Visayan, he endeared himself to his audiences by sharing his aspiration for peace in the region. He represented the youthful dynamism of the region, which was suffering from sporadic conflict and poverty, advocating business development, employment and education in ARMM.
For his leadership, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 1999 and was invited to speak in foreign business conferences, including one in New York, where Bill Gates was one of the guests he impressed.
A grandnephew of the first Muslim Brigadier General and former Senator Salipada Pendatun and nephew of founding MILF chair Salamat Hashim, Paglas also helped in the peace process, a constant fixture in civic programs in the South. ABS-CBN even awarded him a Bagong Bayani for his civic work helping the ABS-CBN Foundation in crafting outreach programs for the evacuees. Toto studied Engineering at the University of Mindanao and Agriculture at Gregorio Araneta University Foundation, Manila.
At these uncertain times brought on by tensions on a supposed signing of a territorial deal between the MILF and government, Muslims and non-Muslims alike poured accolades on Paglas.
Former Peace Secretary Teresita Deles said, “he walked tall, exuding dignity and warmth. He was a good man who sought to carve a different path for his people. “
Former LP president and Senator Franklin Drilon, who endorsed Paglas as ARMM standard bearer in the 2005 elections, said he was a “promoter of inter-culture dialogue.”
“The Liberal Party will surely miss Toto Paglas as the best LP ARMM chairman we never had. He was a man of genuine love and commitment, dedicated to the betterment of the Moro people. He had a vision and mission which he not only preached but worked for….God bless his soul, “ Chit Asis, former Director General of the Liberal Party of the Philippines
“Toto Paglas is one among the best that the Moro People has shown to this country, Philippines and the world,” said filmmaker Manuel Concepcion.
“He is an inimitable Moro leader, and more like him are needed. His is the voice, the face, and the track record that the world needs to see more. His story is the kind of story that brings Moro public relations miles forward!,” said Astrid Tuminez formerly of the United States Institute of Peace
ARMM Trade Secretary Ishak Mastura said, “Datu Toto we will never forget those whose lives you have touched in one way or another for the unity of the Bangsamoro and for bridging understandings thru the gulfs and divides of the Moros with all the gallant people and communities in Mindanao regardless of race, religion and ethnicities . Truly you embody the ideals of “bridging leadership.”
Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema said he was a “big loss to the Moro, enterprising individual from the Rajah Buayan clan.”
Toto’s remains were brought to Digal, Buluan, his ancestral home where Islamic rites were performed burying him in white. Muslims are buried within 24 hours after death.
He leaves three children and his two wives, Shiela Powers and Jamila Disomimba. (Samira Ali Gutoc)