Let us suppose that you are a resident of Lianga and that one morning you back up your car, truck or motorcycle from its garage and suddenly discover that it has developed some form of mechanical problem and needs spare parts and the attention of an expert mechanic. Or you just happen to check your refrigerator, pantry or food stores and notice that they are getting bare as a baby's bottom. You could also be doing a rather major repair or improvement of your house and need to stock up on construction and hardware materials. If you are in any of the situations mentioned above then chances are you may have to start planning a trip to the town of San Francisco in Agusan del Sur.
"SanFranz", as many locals would refer to it, is a 2nd class municipality located some 36 or so kilometers to the southwest of Lianga and is the major commercial, transportation and marketing center in the this part of northeastern Mindanao. It is uniquely located right at the crossroads of the national highway along the Cagayan de Oro-Butuan-Davao axis that provides access to the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte. This fortunate placement means that San Francisco is a major stopover for people and market goods on the move in this part of the Caraga region as well as a place to do and transact business or avail of the variety of commercial, banking and personal services usually not available in the smaller and less developed towns surrounding it.
When I was a small boy, the town was just a sleepy, frontier rest stop for all travelling the then muddy dirt roads that served as the national highway connecting the cities of Butuan and Davao. It was a logging town, a settlement brought about by the exodus of people into the area seduced by the handsome profits of a logging and timber industry that was exploiting the then vast and untouched virgin forests of the Agusan provinces.
Then in the last three decades, it began to prosper as a commercial and trading center by emphasizing its strategic location. It became a transportation hub, a banking center with the opening of several commercial banks and financial institutions and a prime location for retail and wholesale marketing establishments distributing the much needed commodities and services needed by its expanding population and the residents of nearby municipalities.
Nowadays SanFranz still retains the rustic quality of its frontier origins. The town's general layout remains rough and somewhat crude. There are no high-rise buildings and much of the life of the town is centered on a couple of main streets where most of all the business activity is located. It has also had its share of economic highs and lows over the years.
But it is also a town that wants to grow and is indeed growing, albeit not as much as it wants to. It has launched a bid to become a city but has not yet been able to really get there yet. Like some wayward teenager much too eager to lay claim to manhood and adulthood, its frenzied rush to attain cityhood seems obviously rather premature. Even the casual, first time visitor, while admiring of the town's robust and expanding economy, will readily admit that it is not really up to city status yet but may still get there given enough time and inspired leadership on the part of its local officials.
In the meantime it continues to be a town expecting to becoming more than what it is today. Whether it will achieve that expectation remains to be seen. But for the people of Lianga and the other nearby towns, SanFranz will, in the foreseeable future, remain the place to go for business and trade.
It may not be a city yet or, heaven forbid, may never become a city but for those who consider Butuan or Davao too far away or too expensive to visit, there will always be a SanFranz. It may not be the San Francisco where you, like Tony Bennett, will leave your heart but for those in the countryside eager for the occasional taste of the amenities of city or urban life, it can be, in many ways, just as good as it can get.