Surigao Sur governor not keen on plan to reopen paper mill

TANDAG CITY (MindaNews/09 July) — The governor of Surigao del Sur has shrugged off plans to revive the country’s first and only paper milling company despite the endorsement of another government agency to revive it.

“Ay wala na na,” (Forget it) Gov. Johnny T. Pimentel said in reaction to the proposed revitalization of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) led by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDa).

Since last year, MinDa Secretary Lualhati Antonino has pushed for the revival of the country’s first integrated wood and paper mill plant as one of its priority projects.

By February this year, Antonino announced she was seeking investors to reopen the close to 200,000-hectare complex in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, once considered to be Asia’s biggest paper plant.

But Pimentel was not elated over the plan which may further boost the economy of the province. This year Surigao del Sur was declared to be out of the Club 20 poorest provinces in the country.

He said PICOP’s area is now beset with more problems aside from the firm being placed in a receivership status for its failure to pay P2 billion in debts to Land Bank.

“Daghan na kaayo diha karon og (there are now so many) illegal settlers and it will be such a herculean task to settle that,” the governor said.

He added the problems hounding the company would take time to resolve lamenting that in the past, priests protested then congressman Prospero Pichay’s initiative to reopen it.

“Ako surrender nako sa (I’m giving up on) PICOP,” Pimentel said, adding President Benigno Aquino III’s Executive Order 23 (log ban) was another barrier.

He said the log ban has only caused more illegal logging activities, not just in the province but also in the region.

“You should see it (PICOP), opaw na kaayo siya karon (it’s denuded now). Kanang naa sa atubangan lang ang actually gitamnan ana ug gi-rehabilitate sa kompaniya (They are only rehabilitating the front portion [of the forest]),” he said.

He instead proposed a “selective logging” scheme allowing only operators that follow environmental policies.

PICOP closed in 2007 after failing to get the permit to operate aside from facing labor problems.

The concession area covers 182,682 hectares straddling the provinces of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and Surigao del Sur.

It is the only integrated forest and paper company in the country producing quality timber products like plywood, veneer and lumber. Its other byproducts included newsprint, kraft linerboard, corrugating medium, mechanical printing paper and telephone directory paper.

During its heyday, the company employed 2,000 to 3,000 regular employees and about 10,000 downstream workers. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)