SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Same old Surigao del Sur

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 September) – Like Christmas, politics is in the air as the filing of certificates of candidacy approaches. And as expected, many local politicians have jumped into the ruling Liberal Party of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

I learned during my visit last week to Surigao del Sur that Gov. Vicente Pimentel and most of his mayors have joined the LP. The reason is obvious and so I won’t belabor on that. Of the province’s seventeen town mayors and two city mayors, fifteen are now with the LP and the rest have remained with Lakas.

Former congressman Prospero Pichay, whose brother Philip has succeeded him, heads the Lakas in Surigao del Sur. A source in Tandag City said the Pichays would have preferred to be with LP but that Aquino really distastes them owing to their closeness with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. My source did not say if the Pichay siblings are thinking of joining instead the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay and ousted president Erap Estrada.

But here’s the real story as told by the same source: the Pimentels and the Pichays have forged a modus vivendi, that is, they agreed to a power sharing scheme of their own. The Pimentels may alternate themselves as governors and the Pichays as congressmen for as long as they want. They promised not to sponsor or support politicians who may wish to challenge their hold on their respective positions.

My source cited a scenario though: “What if the President decides to field a candidate against the Pichays? Who will the governor support, the Pichays or PNoy’s choice?”

As a disinterested party in as far as Surigao del Sur politics is concerned, I couldn’t care less if the Pichays and Pimentels decide to forget their self-serving agreement and go to war. Having either of them in power won’t make a difference. The only difference is that they have different economic interests. The Pimentels rely on mining as their lifeblood, and the Pichays on logging as their powerbase.

Environment advocates in that part of Mindanao have no choice but to choose the “lesser evil” but an “evil” nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the economy of the province has remained lethargic. The national highway has been concreted lessening the travel hours from San Francisco town in Agusan del Sur to Tandag City, Surigao del Sur’s capital, and beyond. But the countryside is still wanting in far-reaching interventions by the local government. Except in Tandag where the economy has picked up a bit, one can notice no major industries particularly in the towns.

An NGO worker said Surigao del Sur had become so reliant on logging that when the government imposed a logging moratorium it became hard on the part of residents to adjust. He cited the case of Aras-asan, a barangay of Cagwait that used to host a logging company and served – and from the looks of it, it still serves – as the town’s de facto commercial center. “Pag-undang sa logging namingaw pod ang Aras-asan,” he said.

However, logging has not fully stopped despite the ban. There were reports even premium species like magkuno (popularly known as iron wood) continue to be smuggled out.

There’s also the communist insurgency that has persisted since the Martial Law era. Roy Hegino Sarmen, mayor of Lianga noted that his town seems to be the favorite target of the rebels. He said rebel
attacks and the past evacuations in Barangay Diatagon have given the town an image problem. ”It’s only one barangay but the problem is the whole town gets affected by the news reports,” the youthful mayor said. “How can we attract investors here if this situation continues?” he lamented.

Indeed, if no investments come in, how can a fourth class municipality with an internal revenue allotment of P50 million per annum thrive and prosper? It’s an old question, but one that’s still worth asking.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno
can be reached at