Bencyrus Ellorin .
UP to his death early this year, my lolo Eli (Eleazer Alfeche), an agrarian reform beneficiary in Tagoloan town, dreamt of flourishing farms inside over 3,000 hectares prime agricultural land forcibly converted into industrial estate at the height of Martial Law in 1974.
Years had gone by after the declaration of the vast agricultural lands of Tagoloan and Villanueva into the Philippine Veterans Industrial Development Corporation (Phividec) through Presidential Decree 538, signed by the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos on Aug. 13, 1974, yet the area remains rural, except for a few small and medium industries and a handful big ones. Certainly not the industrial Mecca it was once thought of.
Tales of farmers forcibly displaced during Martial Law are slowly forgotten. But the Phividec may yet become the symbol of the country’s failed experiment at industrialization. A steel factory planned in the 1990s did not go past inaugural groundbreaking during the Ramos administration.
Today, among the biggest locators are two coal-fired power plants operated by Steag and FDC.
As a government-owned and -controlled corporation operated by retired generals, the Phividec was thought of as untouchable, especially during the Marcos era. It had again briefly captured public imagination as a generator of industrialization as one of the flagships of President Fidel V. Ramos Philippines 2000.
The Phividec under the Cagayan de Oro Iligal Industrial Corridor would be a regional industrial area, opposite that of Iligan. For some reasons or another, like the 1997 Asian economic meltdown, the CIC masterplan did not roll out.
Years had passed, the Phividec has survived, ekking existence as the country’s industrialization goes on a snail-pace. Mindanao, the land of promise still not on the radars of big industrial corporations because of peace and order issues and power shortage.
Over the last 20 years, after the botched Jacinto Steel Mill project, the Phividec was in the news with the construction of the Mindanao coal-fired power plant, originally planned to be operational in 2001 but generated its first current in 2006 over protests from environmentalists. I remember then as spokesperson of Task Force Macajalar, I said I would go on hunger strike to protest the dirty power plant. It caught the attention of environmentalists from Germany and Japan (Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – Japan) whose campaigners came over and then brought me to lobbying meetings in Bonn, to lobby against KFW bank’s loan to the project and in Tokyo to lobby against the finance of the Japan Bank of International Cooperation. The rest is history.
Now, the Phividec is again back in the news, back to its notoriety actually, when thousands of tons of trash from Korea found its way to the industrial estate, through one of its locator VNS Verde Soko.
True to its notoriety, the management of Phividec did not only provide refuge to the Korean trash, but snubbed and has generally been uncooperative to investigations.
It had snubbed several times invitations from the provincial board as if it is above the law.
In a strange twist, the Phividec which is mandated to attract foreign manufacturing industries is now a dump of imported industrial wastes.
Aside from serious violations to environmental and customs laws an the Basel Convention, Rep Juliet Uy of Misamis Oriental’s first district should introduce amendments to PD 538 to give more authority to local government units over the Phividec. The industrial estate needs to be reintegrated to the province of Misamis Oriental, and the towns of Tagoloan and Villanueva.
Its current head, former Iligan mayor Franklim Quijano is known as a good leader. Sir, anyare?
(The author is a former journalist with experience in managing and editing online news portals here and abroad. He is now a public relations consultant and political campaigner. One of the social media groups he co-administered was a finalist in Globe’s Tatt award in 2012.)