I have received more than a few comments and e-mails airing views on "Clueless Or Lost", a post I recently added to this blog. In that blog post, I lamented the fact that the leadership of the municipal government of Lianga, despite its promise to bring the town back on the road to prosperity and development when it came to power a year ago, seems unable to come up with exactly the vision or blueprint on how to make that promise an achievable reality.
The interest in that post seems to stem from the fact that Lianga's dilemma is a problem shared by many old towns all over the country who have gone through periods of growth and progress in the past yet in recent decades have seen gradual economic stagnation and decline. How to breath new life into these "dying" towns in these times of economic upheaval and uncertainty is a problem that troubles many people, not just municipal officials, who either live in such municipalities or have sentimental or emotional ties to them.
In the case of Lianga, the decades following the end of the Second World War represented its so called "golden years." It was already a pretty important town even before the war but the postwar years saw it really achieve prominence as one of the more important populations centers in then unified province of Surigao. It's economic growth then was based on several factors.
The establishment of a local timber and logging industry in the 1960's through the Lianga Bay Logging Company based in Diatagon, one of its component barangays, was one of the major ones. The company provided thousands of jobs, generated substantial tax revenue and encouraged the emergence of support and service industries and businesses. It also brought about population growth and infrastructure development.
Lianga was also by that time already a town with a thriving fishing industry and its seafood products were well known and sought after in this part of Mindanao. It was also a major trading and marketing center for agricultural products ranging from rice, copra, abaca and all manner of retail goods. Small ships docked at a small wharf near the town center regularly to load and unload these goods for transport to other parts of Mindanao and the Visayas.
The late 1970's saw the start of Lianga's decline. The rise of the local Communist insurgency and the resulting deterioration of the local peace and order situation began to discourage the entry of new business investments. The local logging industry began to falter (then eventually folded up) and that led to economic hardships and dislocation on the part of many local residents, particularly in Diatagon and Lianga itself, whose incomes have become largely dependent and tied to the fortunes and misfortunes of the logging company. Rampant overfishing and the use of environmentally unsound fishing practices began to result in the gradual decrease of the volume and quality of the local fish catch.
As Lianga moved through the 1980's and the 1990's, neighboring towns like Barobo and San Francisco, which were more ideally located along the main highways servicing the rapidly growing cities of Davao, Butuan and Cagayan de Oro, began to outpace then eventually surpass Lianga in terms of progress and development. Now the town is a shadow of what it used to be and everywhere there are telltale signs of economic decay and arrested progress.
Its people, however, continue to dream of the town's glorious years and in response, every town government that has come to power since then have made making Lianga "great" again a slogan and a political campaign promise. It is a promise and a commitment that has been made over and over again but remains exactly just that to this very day.
Attempts to revitalize the logging industry in Diatagon have been made over the years and have been met with varying success but there is little optimism that reliance on such an environmentally destructive industry in these more environmentally conscious times would hold the key to future economic prosperity for Lianga as it has done so in the past. Neither is there much hope for the revival of the largely moribund fishing industry which even today faces stiff competition from fishermen from neighboring coastal towns and communities.
Finding a new direction and blazing a new path for the future survival and economic rebirth of Lianga has become the Holy Grail of many concerned souls who happen to call Lianga home and whose families and clans are deeply rooted in its sandy soil. But even as a viable, workable plan or idea, it has proven to be elusive and difficult to crystallize and conceive. And when there is no valid plan or idea, what is there to implement?
There are those who say that investments in ecotourism and agriculture remain Lianga's best hope for the future because they play on two strengths that the town possesses. They conceive of Lianga as a favorite destination for local and foreign tourists eager to get a taste of its sandy beaches and natural scenic attractions. They also propose of an ambitious plan to revitalize the town's agricultural base and strengthen the local fishing industry to support such a plan.
But the voices that are speaking out are not the voices that matter. Nor are these voices being heard. The local government now, in fact, has been singularly and resoundingly mute on this matter and seems to prefer, as previous local government administrations have, to tout slogans promising future progress for the town while remaining largely unsure of what to do or worse not really caring at all. Perhaps they prefer the status quo because it promotes the very atmosphere of mediocrity and apathy that they feed on and encourages the petty political games they all play at under the guise and mantle of public service.
The people of Lianga may be confused and unsure of what the future holds for them. But when their political leaders are just as confused and bewildered then something must be deadly wrong here. Or perhaps they are not merely being obtuse, confused, bewildered or uncaring. Perhaps they are merely being what they have always been.