Alexander Tomawis – A tribute
Prior to the said collapse, the MILF exercised virtual sway or control over the said three municipalities with Barira being the main nerve center of the MILF. From the Buldon-Barira-Matanog Triangle, the MILF extended its sphere of influence and control over the neighboring municipalities both in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.
Alex in 2001 was a young dazzling Mayor faced with the challenge of reconstruction following the devastation of the all-out war. It was his inspiration to form an alliance of the three municipalities that were, at one time, considered as MILF liberated zones. With his wife, Fatima from the Aratuc Clan of Buldon becoming the Mayor of the next-door Buldon municipality, he convinced Mayor Nasser Imam of Matanog that the only way forward for their three LGUs was to move together for the re-construction of their devastated municipalities.
In 2002, I was invited to the initial meetings of the stakeholders in the three municipalities to formalize the now famous Iranon Development Council or IDC. Alex was the dynamo for the said alliance. This three-municipality alliance expanded to the Municipality of Parang and the Municipality of Datu Blah in 2008. Under the leadership of Alex, the people of the five municipalities began dreaming of carving from the Province of Maguindanao a prosperous, peaceful and secure Iranon Integrated Development Area beginning with five municipalities.
Except for the Municipality of Parang which is a 2nd class municipality, the other four component LGUs are all 5th class in terms of delivery of social services and economic growth. In fact, Barira, Buldon, Matanog and Datu Blah are among the poorest municipalities in the Province of Maguindanao.
Alex saw the contradiction in their Iranon domain. On the one hand, there is so much poverty in the area, yet on the other hand, the place is blessed with rich natural resources.
Alex had three endearing characteristics. First, he had a dream and vision for the development of his people and their Iranon domain. He wanted to go the way of yet another Maguindanao leader, the late Datu Ibrahim ‘Toto’ Paglas in harnessing the potential of the vast fertile lands of the Iranon for corporate agricultural production – banana plantations, cassava plantations, African palm tree plantation, etc.
Second, he believed in his vision and he was devotedly committed to the realization of his dream. He contacted experts, business groups, civil society organizations, government line agencies and international communities to share his dream and vision for a prosperous and secure Iranon domain.
Third, Alex was given the gift of tongue. He was so persuasive and a natural ‘seller’ to market and package his vision with small ‘doable’ projects.
He was able to cajole the four other Mayors to pull their resources in responding to emergencies and disasters within their domain. They put up the now famous IRA 511 that works like the US 911 counterparts. The IRA 511 gives a new name to the infamous internal revenue allotment (IRA) which, for years, was the piggy bank and source of corruption for local politicians.
The three letters now stand for Iranon Rescue Assistance. The constituents of the four municipalities wherever and whenever need only call or text 511 for any need of rescue and assistance. It works 24/7 with the combined force coming from the LGUs, DOH, PNP and Firemen.
The next project of Alex being the chair of the Iranon Development Council is to evolve a design for sustainable development plan for each of the five municipalities. With his group and the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, we were able to convince AusAid to fund the pre-feasibility study of the Integrated Sustainable Development Plan for the five municipalities.
We are in the final stage of this major undertaking, when Alex at age 38 was assassinated inside his rented apartment in Davao City on the 28th of November 2010.
His sudden rise to prominence and his charismatic leadership, especially in forging alliances threatened the political ambitions of the shaping Iranon Province that would rise from the ashes of the former Shariff Kabungsuan Province.
During the May 2010 national elections and the October Barangay Elections, he collided headlong with the military leadership in the Iranon areas and a local political bigwig. The acerbic words and exchanges during those elections and the running victory of Alex in both elections notwithstanding his arbitrary detention must be too galling for his opponents.
He became so ‘hot’ and rumors of his impending assassination were circulating in Cotabato City and the nearby municipalities. This was the reason he decided to temporarily move to Davao City. He thought that things need a ‘cooling’ period and he thought that Davao City was safe. He believed that the possible Maguindanoan hired killers would never dare cross the former Mayor Rudy Duterte.
The assassination has all the marking of professional killers. The planning and execution of the assassination have the signature that is very professional. People think that we do not have such professionalism in Cotabato City and the Province of Maguindanao.
Alex belongs to the Tomawis – Dagalangit clan of Barira and Buldon. His wife belongs to the Aratuc Clan of Buldon. The marriage of Alex and Fatima sealed the union of the Tomawis-Dagalangit clan with the Aratuc Clan which, prior to the marriage, were at loggerheads.
The combined clans are big and the three municipalities of Barira, Buldon and Datu Blah are the source of their political power. In the traditional system that continues to be at work in the province, these three, but more specifically Barira and Buldon are the domains of the Tomawis-Dagalangit and Aratuc clans.
They have killed the dreamer and the visionary. But the dream and the vision are alive. They have killed Alex, the man! But Alex, the dreamer and the man passionately in love with his people and domain continues to live in the hearts of his people.
No doubt, the killing of Alex is a temporary setback in the development of the Iranon areas. But the commitment of the five mayors to continue the dream and vision of Alex is heart-warming. While they cry for justice for Alexander Tomawis, their fallen leader, they vow to make Alex’s vision a platform for the Iranons in the coming years.
We look forward to the end of the 40 days of mourning, and then together we shall pick up the pieces and forge ahead. It is our responsibility now to keep that fire aflame!