ILIGAN City — Tomas L. Cabili was, during his time, one of our country’s best minds and a man who saw the future. He was astute and stood on principles. While the rest of the other national leaders shined the boots of the Japanese, Tomas Cabili choose to live in discomfort and be a guerrilla fighter — choosing to stay in the jungles of Lanao rather than rub elbows with the invaders.
He was President Ramon Magsaysay’s closest aide being one time his Defense Secretary and prior to his untimely death, a senator of this Republic. He was being groomed by President Magsaysay to be the Republic’s next President.
In truth and in fact, he was offered the presidency (via the vice presidency) but he politely declined for the sake of principles that many of us today may not understand.
An Iliganon par excellence, Tomas Cabili was a visionary who saw the great potential of Lanao. He is the “Father of Federalism” in our country and the only Christian leader who has endeared himself to a Muslim tribe, the Maranaos.
Today, the main avenue and the public plaza of the Islamic City of Marawi is named after him. No other Christian leader can equal his feat in building a relationship with the Bangsamoro. Even the biggest mosque in the center of Marawi he had helped build.
The only delegate who did not sign the 1935 Constitution, he stood his ground and defended the rights of the tri-people of Iligan. He fought hard for a federal government, knowing that a unitary government would dissipate the great advantages of Lanao which is the “Battery of Mindanao” and the “Fresh Water Capital” of Mindanao. He knew that federalism was the best set up for Lanao since it would build human dignity, respect for culture and subsidiarity.
He also knew that federalism would make Lanao the richest province in Mindanao. He did not like a very powerful Malacanang, but wanted power and authority shared with the provinces or States.
He was the one who coined the term, “Industrial City of the South” for Iligan and saw the vision of Iligan as the richest City in Mindanao because of its manufacturing and industrial strength and its power and energy which supplies 62 percent of the needs of Mindanao.
He knew that the dynamics of Lanao would not be the same as the rest of the country. He knew that the Maranaos were not only a tribe; they were also a nation just like the Tausugs of Sulu and the Maguindanoans of Maguindanao. He respected culture and tradition.
He saw the concept of Special Economic Zones or SEZs for Iligan and would have implemented them Iligan City wide if not for his untimely demise. If only he did not die during the prime of his life, and if he became President, we would have been a federal republic as early as the 1960s. We could have been the most powerful nation in Southeast Asia today, economically.
Ramon Magsaysay and Tomas Cabili had a common trait. They can “penetrate enemy lines” with no arms or bodyguards. And that is why the rebels loved them to no end. They were of kindred spirit till the very end — both men of the masses. He was also a man of peace and reconciliation.
Today, no Iliganon can equal his achievement as a statesman and a diplomat.
Tomas L. Cabili, the best President our country never had, the father of federalism, an honorable Iliganon, a hero of the Republic, and the Sultan Dimasangkay of Ranao.