Yesterday I had the chance to talk to Jun Lala, the young neophyte who happens to be the top ranking member of the Lianga municipal council or Sangguniang Bayan. I had the opportunity to ask him about the direction he and the rest of the municipal government is taking Lianga since taking office after the local elections last May. Jun is part of a group of young, first time politicians who did very well in the polls after running on a platform of reform and change and a fresh perspective on the many problems plaguing the town.
Lianga has always been under the thrall of old style, traditional politicians coming from well entrenched political families and the entry of new faces in to the political arena was, in many ways, a welcome development and a breath of fresh air for many of the townsfolk who were getting distressed by what they see as an alarming decline in economic activity locally.
In the past, municipal officials have tried to focus their efforts on programs to industrialize Lianga and thus try to recapture the glories of the time, many decades ago, when the town was preeminent among its sister municipalities in Surigao del Sur as a trading and market town. The quest for shortcuts to industrialization has led to such attempts, among other things, as to revive the stalled logging industry in Barangay Diatagon and to construct a seaport in Barangay Baucaue, both ongoing projects that are proving to be not only problematic but also may not exactly be what the town may need to resuscitate its faltering economy.
After talking to Jun I was gratified to learn that he has the same view that I and many longtime Lianga observers have held for some time now - that the future of the municipality lies primarily no longer in industrialization but in the areas of local agriculture and ecotourism. Therefore, the bulk of municipal resources must be harnessed to jump start and enhance the development of these two emerging, potential economic strengths. To compete with such progressive towns in the general area such as Barobo and San Francisco, Lianga needs to build on its strengths and being a coastal and agricultural town, the obvious need not to be pointed out or overemphasized.
Lianga is already a weekend destination for local and foreign tourists who want to frolic on its white, sandy beaches and a number of local beach resorts already exist to cater to the that very need. There is a need for government support to encourage the building of more similar and even better facilities as well as the needed service and support industries. The upgrading and improvement of existing road, public utility infrastructures and electronic communication facilities should also be addressed.
That a locally based tourism industry can be definitely created in Lianga is not only possible but imminently achievable since the town has a rich cultural and historical heritage. What is just needed is a program designed to highlight, accentuate and showcase the positive aspects of that heritage.
Agriculture is Jun's primary field of interest. Educated as a veterinarian, he sees government assistance, whether financial or technical in nature, to farmers, livestock raisers and agricultural workers not only as livelihood assistance but, more importantly, as a form of people empowerment. The agricultural sector has also been largely neglected by the local government and left largely to fend for itself so he feels that for the government to give it some focus now is to merely to repay a long overdue debt to what essentially remains a pillar of the local economy.
Translating the rhetoric into action with real and verifiable results in a situation where you may have to fight against institutional inertia, vested political interests and popular cynicism about the capability of politicians to actually deliver on their campaign promises, are obstacles that he knows he has to fight and overcome. But Jun is confident that he and the other young legislators will eventually succeed because they really have to.
It is, in a nutshell, a question of surviving and remaining viable in today's world. And when faced with that critical choice, not to succeed, just like doing nothing, is to accept Lianga's inevitable path to decline and decay. And that is simply something that the people of Lianga cannot accept much less consider or contemplate.