LETTER FROM MINDANAO: The ‘luxury’ road to Tandag

TANDAG, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/06 May 2007) — Eleven years ago, traveling from Davao City to Butuan City was so difficult that the closest description of the road condition from the first town of Agusan del Sur until San Francisco (San Franz) was “hellish.” 

Stopping by San Franz for a much-needed break from the back-breaking, bone-jarring travel, you talk about the “hellish” road to Mr. Butch Garcia, owner of my favorite restaurant there (the made-of-dao-tree Cristina’s) who tells you, “well, you’ve just been through purgatory, Carol. The road to Butuan is hell.”

And, indeed, it was.

I never got to ask Mr. Garcia about the road to Tandag, Surigao del Sur as Cristina’s was closed around 5:30 a.m. on the Sunday we passed by in mid-April this year from DavaoCity. The last time I was in Tandag was also about a decade ago. Alas, like the San Franz to Butuan road a decade ago, the road to Tandag 2007 was “hell.”

From the mid-1980s when I first visited Tandag, to the mid-1990s when I last visited it, there was not much difference where the road was concerned. Dusty when not rainy. Muddy when rainy. Oh sure there’s now a semblance of  improvement in the form of “samplings” of a concrete road spanning at least a kilometer per town and the ubiquitous heavy equipment moving down the road even on a Sunday (it’s election season, remember).

But the wooden 10-ton supposedly temporary bailey bridges are still there, left to rot, most of them (we counted 23 between Barobo and Tandag) needing repair. (How could authorities have allowed logging trucks and buses to ply this route when every 10-ton bridge they pass is an accident waiting to happen?)

A resident relates that a foreigner who married a Surigaonon was asked what he thought of the road and his answer was, “I am amazed you’re proud to call it a road.”

In several portions of the road, one can actually plant pechay, you know, that green leafy vegetable that image-makers made use of to promote a senatorial wannabe who should really travel the road to Tandag by land transport, not by plane or helicopter. If he does, ahh, there’s the real “ground truthing” that might just convince Surigaonons he is not only “pro-Pinoy” but really “pro-Suriganon.”

The road to Tandag has been known by many names – “abortion road” because if you’re pregnant, you’d likely suffer an abortion if you were to travel that road; “revolutionary road” because government neglect of a very basic need (a good road so the other basic services can be delivered) can breed revolutionaries as it has in Surigao del Sur (perhaps the senator wannabe remembers the priest Father Frank Navarro?).

There are other titles to describe the road to Tandag  but one that really puzzled me was when a long-time resident referred to their road as “luxury road.”

Seeing our puzzled looks, she laughed as she explained the road was so terrible you’d end up “maglukso-lukso” (jumping).

Returning to Tandag on April 27, just two weeks and several days of rain later, what could be worse than “hell?”

And this was supposed to be a national highway?

“Are you kidding? What highway, Ate Carl?” photojournalist Skippy Lumawag asked when I reminded him to fasten his seatbelt as we were traveling the Surigao del Sur “highway” en route to Davao City on April 29.

Out here, they don’t talk kilometers when they talk distances between towns. They talk hours.

And when they talk travel, there’s always a caveat: “depende sa weather” (it depends on the weather). Don’t be surprised if someone tells you the road to Bislig from Tandag is five to six hours when it rains, four hours if it doesn’t.

Going around Mindanao, one gets amazed at how the roads have improved considerably over the last two decades. But not in Surigao del Sur whose officials in the last two decades have been mostly pro-administration. So why hasn’t this province managed to catch up with the rest of Mindanao?

The irony of ironies, this province has very rich resources but remains at the bottom, in the human development index, among the poorest of the poor.

You see poverty down the road to Tandag you’d wonder what the hell happened to the  billions of pesos profit from extracting forest resources here. The investors have nearly finished off the forest through logging, they’re now into mining but on the road to Tandag, you can shake your head left to right and jump up and down and the answer to this very simple question: “who benefited from these businesses” is simply not there. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. You may email the author at carol@mindanews.com)