ADVOCACY MindaNOW: Surigao Revisited

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BOOM TOWN. I revisited the Caraga region these past few days. How it lately transformed to what it is today is just remarkable. Surigao City is booming with new establishments. A new, plush towering TAVERN HOTEL faces the calming sea. It used to be a seedy hideaway.  At the outside patio, many foreigners quaffed chilled beer watching rugby matches on a large TV screen outside. Across the channel, world class Siargao surfs beckoned. The roads are well paved and widened. Construction is still underway in several areas.   A sprawling soon-to-be inaugurated Surigao del Norte provincial hospital at the outskirts is just waiting for Pres. Aquino’s presence. The mining towns along the route from Butuan City are swarming with people especially at the Bad-as junction which can lead one to Placer town, a mining area and to Surigao City on the opposite direction.

POLITICAL. The Matugas clan’s political control still holds strong. The provincial capitol is occupied by lady Gov. Sol Matugas, a hardworking, gracious chief executive who earned her spurs while previously serving in various capacities at the Department of Education & Sports. When I called on her at her office last Monday well beyond office hours, she was still closeted with her key staff working closed door. It was a non-working holiday. Her husband, Cong. Francisco”Lalo” Matugas (2nd district) was also set to meet with PNP Provincial Director Julito Diray when I walked in. He just came from a look-see visit of the new provincial hospital to make sure things were ready for the president’s coming.  Cong. Lalo’s brother, Mayor Ernesto “Nitoy” Matugas runs Surigao City to complete the political triumvirate.

In political tandem with the Matugas clan is the Romarate family headed by Cong. Guillermo Romarate, Jr. of the 1st district who also holds sway with his stronghold at Tubod town ( around 40 kilometers from Surigao City ) where his daughter, Mayor Cristina Hemady Romarate Arcillas  is town mayor. She struck me as a young, development oriented chief executive who told me over breakfast that she’s still even going to school for her master’s degree. ” It’s my dad’s wish and dream,” she curtly said when I showed quizzical eyes. At the provincial board as senior member is matriarch Myrna Romarate who can potentially also go up the political ladder in 2016.

Another Surigao power block is the Barbers family, principally skippered now by former legislator and cabinet member Ace Barbers after the passing sometime ago of his father, legendary Robert Barbers, policeman turned compleat politician.While in Surigao,  I visited several barangays around a mining site that was first opened in the early 1930s and closed in the 1980s. The people I talked to  were generally supportive of mining. They were even petitioning for the mine’s early resumption of operations with strong  support from the locals and the officials, principally Cong. Lalo.  The locals had seen over the years the benefits brought by mining to them individually and as a community. They had witnessed first hand the benefits of mining not seen or experienced by “outsiders” who, accordingto them only talk of ” horror” stories about mining.

CO-EXIST. Contrary to popular belief, responsible mining, agriculture and community living can and DO  co-exist. I saw this at a gold project site at Tubod town in Surigao del Norte. Ricefields are lush and green and productive just across a fence from a tailings  torage facility where an open pit mine is located  since the 1930’s.  In the same Tubod town, another big mining company is doing exploration that soon will move to commercial production. The Surigao mineralized mountains are so blessed. No wonder people are upbeat about the future.

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Yes, Mayor Rody Duterte  is now doing the rounds actively campaigning for the country’s shift to a federal system of government. Lately, he went to Cebu City for this. This is a good move, having seen what has been happening in the country in terms of governance which requires systemic changes  rather than just changing leaders during elections. This system will empower  the locals   to govern themselves and determine their own road maps and dismantle  the monopoly of a Manila-centric government which has contributed to the corruption spectacle we are seeing today. I concur with him when he said he will not consider running for a national office unless an enabling environment for good governance is in place. A shift to federal is one avenue.

 MEDIA FORUM. I was surprised hearing some members of media in Gen. Santos city openly denouncing  the activities of so-called  “illegitimate” press which, according to them, still abound in Gen. Santos City. Some denounced the practice of AC-DC (acronym for “attack &collect, defend & collect”) tactic resorted  to by mulcters  parading  as journalists. It was significant that the expose’ came from media members themselves who wished that this practice be curbed. The creation of a multi-sectoral press council through the initiativeof the Philippine Press Institute( PPI) and FEMSA COCA COLA  may help remedy this.

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NO THREATS, PLS. I felt uncomfortable reading statements coming from the MILF panel chair Mohaqher Iqbal himself warning that the dreaded terrorist ISIS will spread in Mindanao if the Bangsamoro agreement will not become areality.  Some observers are taking this as a form of a veiled threat to Congress like saying:  “pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or else..“. Although the MILF may be correct in this, it may be more comforting for MILF itself  to  just allow others to say so.   Some are even saying that the MILF cannot even control or effectively deal with  their own “rogue” elements like the BIFF.  What more of the ISIS?

We must pass the BBL Law. But let it rise (or fall) on its own merits, minus a threatening environment. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jesus “Jess” Dureza served in various capacities under the nine-year Arroyo administration, including the posts of government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003 and as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process).

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