Both in their early 30’s, the governor and his vice governor are cut for the job, so to speak.
They are not just articulate and hard-driven. They were first and foremost promising corporate yuppies before politics beckoned.
Their educational backgrounds are impressive. Dominguez, a 30-year old bachelor who holds a degree in economics from Boston College in Massachusetts while Solon is a graduate of business administration at Fordham University in New York.
They both, at one time, worked in their respective family-owned companies that are among the country’s most diversified corporations. They know their economic intelligence better than most local managers here. They speak the language of businessmen and know their balance sheets by heart.
Now, instead of selling their own products, they are at the helm at making Sarangani one of the premier investment destinations in Mindanao.
The two are out to prove that business and politics do mix. For good reasons.
For the vice governor who is barely four months in office, Sarangani’s natural harbors and vast agricultural lands are its most attractive advantages over other new provinces in Mindanao.
“We have the Sarangani Bay surrounded by mountains serving as natural barriers against gusty southern winds. There are coves ideal for aquamarine culture. And the bay itself is littered with natural harbors for port operations and possibly ship building activities,” the 36-year old vice governor said.
Besides, there has not been a single recorded typhoon ever since the freak Yoling of 1971 hit then South Cotabato, from which Sarangani was carved out in 1992.
Six of the seven towns of Sarangani are also connected by a paved and well-maintained road network that stretches to 145 kilometers between ends and passing through General Santos City. Traveling from Glan in the eastern most part of the province to Maitum in the western tip takes just a little under two hours even in leisurely driving. No traffic problems whatsoever.
Dominguez, whose family-owned Alsons Corporation is setting up a US$350-million 200-MW power plant in Maitum (to be expanded up to 900MW in 200-300MW increments), is quick to add that Sarangani’s human resources are also its best assets.
“We have proven industrious people in the coastal towns of Maitum, Kiamba and Maasim and adventurous and equally-hardworking residents in Alabel, Malapatan, Glan and Malungon (the only landlocked town of Sarangani),” Dominguez said.
The local government, he said, has won back the trust and respect of residents after several years of being subjected to ignominy of corruption by past public officials.
“Now people are finding jobs in companies that have poured and added new investments in the province,” Dominguez added.
Among them is pineapple giant Dole Philippines Inc. (Dolefil) which now is leasing close to 1,600 hectares of land in Maasim and Malungon, both former strife-torn towns and another 500 more hectares under growership contract. Dolefil has also set its sights for a potential 15,000-hectare expansion project that will run up to 2015.
Over the last three years, new investments recorded an annual average growth rate of 3.05 per cent. Capital infused into this new businesses reached P497.9 million or annual average of 30 per cent. Very impressive compared to the 0.6 per cent national growth in new local investments between 2002 to 2005, according to former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) director Cielito Habito.
The province also crafted an incentive-laden investment code that allows new investors tax holidays for up to five years with the local government more than willing to provide quick and efficient processing of business permits and licenses.
Investment climate is now very excellent, according Dominguez.
“We have not had any major insurgency or terrorism-related incident ever since I became governor in 2004,” he said.
If they were to make a pitch, the two top honchos of the province say they would prefer that Sarangani become the industrial and agricultural hub of southern and central Mindanao.
“We need to produce capital and consumer goods in order to have a solid economic foundation,” Dominguez explained.
Both, however, admit that Sarangani still has a long way to go to achieve that goal. But they said the local government, under their stewardship, is willing to pour more resources for the development of public utilities and other infrastructures needed for new investments.
The mountains of Kiamba and Maitum are rich in gold and copper deposits. Marble, limestone and other associated minerals are of commercial quantities in the towns of Maasim, Malapatan and Glan.
Food processing is also a big potential investment area, the two agreed. More than 7,000 hectares of mango trees are now dotting the province which yielded almost four metric tons last year.
Sarangani Bay continues to host and produce abundant marine life. Banana production reached 91,236.92 metric tons also in 2006. The province still leads Central Mindanao in coconut production at 353,187.50 metric tons in the same year.
One area the governor and his vice governor are proud of is tourism.
“From virtually zero some five years ago to over2270,222 last year,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez compared the 14-year old Sarangani province to "Bohol 10 to 15 years ago, even Boracay 20 years ago."
If Bohol and Caticlan have their Panglao and Boracay beaches, Sarangani also has its Gumasa, a serene village in Glan. Gumasa boasts of fine powdery white beaches that are comparable if not better than Boracay’s. And the place is even hardly developed yet.
For the adventuresome, there is the famous Pinol Cave where earthenware and anthropomorphic potteries dating back some 3,000 years ago were unearthed and are now preserved in a museum.
A heart-pounding 15-minute white water tubing ride in the crystal-clear river of La Union in Maitum or an early morning scuba dive deep into the magnificent Tinutu Wall in Maasim that drops more than 1,500 meters.
One can also marvel at the colorful marine life at Tuka point in Kiamba or explore the hidden pristine falls of the town deep into its jungles, home to one of the few remaining forest covers in Central Mindanao. If one gets lucky enough, swim with whale sharks that gorge for plankton just two fathoms deep in the coast of Alabel, watch release of turtle hatchlings or go whale and dolphin watching.
For those who are avid students of history and anthropology, Sarangani is home to at least five major Indigenous tribes. Those who want to be amused, just listen to Dr. Tranquilino Ruiz for his own claim that the first mass was held in Glan, not in Limasawa or Butuan as other historians have argued and be awed by his collection of artifacts and family memorabilia and fascinating American-era old houses.
“With all these stimulating sights, doing business in Sarangani is also a pleasure,” Dominguez said turning his attention to the vice governor who reminded the latter to go dive at Tinutu and volunteered his wet suit.
In the young tandem Dominguez and Solon, scions of third generation members of old family friends, Sarangani is having the best of both world of politics and business.
The two never imagined that their passion for good food and nightlife while they were both in the United States will bring them together again in Sarangani for more than just personal satisfaction.
“We used to share dinner while I was visiting the governor in Boston and he dropping by our apartment in New York,” said Solon.
That was almost ten years ago when the governor was still studying at Boston College and the newly-graduated vice governor was trying to gatecrash into the Wall Street as stockbroker.
“Now, we often sit beside each other during formal functions and sit across the table late at night,” he added.
But the things they discuss are no longer about who they were dating but rather agreeing on dates and schedules they are to attend as top officials of the province. (Edwin G. Espejo is a former editor in chief of the SunStar GenSan).
Sarangani Facts and Figures
Land Area : 3,957.54 sq. km.
Population : 471,400 (NSO 2006 Projection)
Towns : Glan, Malapatan, Alabel, Malungon, Maasim, Kiamba, Maitum
Weather :Even rainfall year round
Mineral Resources: Gold, Copper, Marble, Limestone, Shale
Agricultural Products: Mango, Banana, Coconut, Cassava, Pineapple, Papaya
Industrial Products: Rubber, Palm Oil, Abaca, sugarcane
Livestock/Poultry: Cattle, Hogs, Goat, Poultry
Aquaculture: Bangus (milkfish), Grouper, Pompano, Prawn/Shrimp, Trevally
Port : General Santos City Wharf
Airport : General Santos City Airport
Communications : PLDT, Smart Communication, Globe Telecommunication, Sun Cellular Network, available internet access
Places to go. Gumasa white sand beaches, Tuka Point, La Union River water tubing, Pinol Cave, South Point diving spot, Sarangani Bay whale watching, Lamlifew Tribal village
Place to dine. Isla Parilla in Alabel and restaurants in nearby General Santos City
Places to Stay. Isla Parilla in Alabel. Hotels and Inns are also available in General Santos City, a 15-minute ride from the Provincial Capitol in Alabel, Sarangani
Accessibility. Three-hour drive from Davao City. One hour forty-five minute plane ride from Manila via General Santos City Airport. All Sarangani towns are within one-hour ride from General Santos Cit