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Hashim Salamat led like Nelson Mandela, says doc

SERVANT-LEADER Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Hashim Salamat, speaking to MILF guerrillas in one of their strongholds in the jungles of Mindanao in this undated photo, lived by the principles of servant leadership, according to the physician who now heads the Bangsamoro Development Agency. —AFP

(Third of a series)

COTABATO, Maguindanao, Philippines — In a tree-shaded camp on the edge of the Liguasan Marsh, Hashim Salamat summoned a group of 10 doctors and young professionals to what one participant described as a monthlong course on bridging leadership.

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“You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but you were highly recommended,” Dr. Danda Juanday recalled Salamat as telling him during his meeting with the then chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). “Will you help me help the poor Bangsamoro?” said Salamat, who asked the doctor to head the MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

Juanday was then at the peak of his practice as an obstetrician. But he could not refuse the request.

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During a ritual called “Mubaya,” he pledged he would carry out his mission with the commitment, accountability and good governance that Salamat had spelled out.

That was a year before the MILF leader died of illness in July 2003 at the age of 61.

With funding from donor countries administered by the World Bank, Juanday set up people’s organizations and worked with other agencies in relief and rehabilitation in war-devastated communities.

He stepped down in 2009, after two terms as BDA chief, with a positive track record. He never carried a gun, and was regarded as an MILF outsider.

Mandela’s lesson

“The truth is that in the history of the world, revolutionaries who took over the realm of government mostly failed,” said Juanday.

“The only exception is Nelson Mandela of South Africa. But Mandela was never an armed revolutionary,” he said, adding that Mandela just knew “how to use his assets well, be it black or white.”

Juanday recalled Salamat quoting from the Quran and telling him: “God does not change the condition of the people from good to bad, or from bad to good, from ease to hardship and from hardship to ease, unless they change their condition themselves.”

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Salamat was working on a doctorate in theology at Al-Azhar University in Cairo before he returned to join Nur Misuari in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the early 1970s.

Salamat broke away from the MNLF in 1977.

When the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) was formed in 2019 and the majority of its seats went to the MILF, there were voices raised that it was too “exclusive,” that it needed to enlist professionals and tap the pool of leaders trained over nearly two decades by the BDA and its partners.

The BTA is seeking an extension of its three-year term, pleading that lack of funding and the Covid-19 pandemic had derailed its plans and programs as a self-governing entity. The pandemic also prevented the national government from fulfilling some of its peace commitments, including those related to the decommissioning of 40,000 MILF combatants.

A whole new world

During the peace negotiations, the MILF asked for a five- to six-year transition, said Windel Diangcalan, an agricultural engineer and incumbent BDA executive director. “They were given only three years. And then they are transitioning from a revolutionary group to a bureaucratic arena. It’s a different world. That’s where you have gaps.”

The “gaps” have begun to be felt—in Cotabato City, for example, in the slow approval of business permits, the disposal of medical wastes from Covid-19 protocols, and the recurrent power outages that disrupt not only internet and communications services but also online education.

Cotabato City joined the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the 2019 plebiscite —a result that is being contested in the Supreme Court for alleged irregularities. BARMM supplanted the MNLF’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The city is second after Tagum in business competitiveness in Mindanao and requires a higher level of bureaucratic management. “We’re used to moving fast at 80 kilometers per hour, [but] they’re doing 20,” said one resident.

In the BARMM, there is practically no development outside of Cotabato City.

Fears of errant ways

Fears have begun to surface, of errant ways similar to those experienced during the ARMM years, which had no development agenda and public accountability and transparency were often disregarded.

The meager contribution of the ARMM in the education of the young is felt even today, in Piagapo in Lanao del Sur. There, nonresident teachers were hired by the ARMM only to transfer them to another municipality, leaving a vacuum in Piagapo’s teaching staff, said Vice Mayor Ali Sumandar, 48.

Under the BTA, he said, senior positions in school divisions had begun to be filled without the required competence and proper screening of the local school board.

“We do not want a repeat of what happened during the ARMM time,” said Sumandar, who had served three terms as mayor and worked as an electrical engineer in five countries.

He was enjoying a good life in Australia, with leisure time for off-road driving and skydiving, when he heeded his family’s call to return and improve conditions in his impoverished hometown.

Servant-leader

It’s the kind of commitment Salamat stressed in the seminar Juanday attended, where the MILF chief emphasized the value of a servant-leader not only in his lectures but also in practical ways. Once, Salamat invited participants to tea and began to serve them himself. He rejected offers of help from his guests. “I am just trying to get some blessing from God, that’s why I am serving you,” he said.

While sweeping the courtyard, Salamat turned down a guest’s plea to do the task for him. Instead, Salamat asked him to take another broom so they could cover more ground.

During a morning prayer, Salamat thrice ignored an attempt to correct mistakes in the recital he was leading—a normal practice. When a leader makes a mistake and still proceeds on his course, it means that he has to be followed because he has to do the job, Salamat later told them.

Those were the guideposts, said Juanday. INQ

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TAGS: Danda Juanday, Hashim Salamat, MILF
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