One of the greatest ironies and scathing realities in the Philippines is the abundance of natural resources but the economic potential inherent of such can hardly change the status of certain localities. Bad governance and dirty politicking by default shove a community, town or province to abject poverty. Putting religious fanaticism and occultism into the mix and it become a boon and curse.

UP NORTH OF mainland Mindanao is Dinagat Islands, the country’s newest province. Pursuant to Republic Act No. 9355, the northern half of the First Legislative District of Surigao del Norte was separated and converted into a province. Authored by then Representative Glenda Ecleo, a long-time political leader and now the incumbent governor, the new province’s charter was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on December 2, 2006.

Dinagat Islands Capitol

The Supreme Court, acting on the petition contesting the constitutionality of RA 9355, declared the charter null and void on February 11, 2010. Reverted back to the Province of Surigao del Norte, it thus threw off the governance of the newly carved province into disarray and put it in quandary.

Like in previous occasions yet separate legal issues, the Supreme Court flip flopped and acted in finality on March 30, 2011, that Dinagat met the constitutional requirements of a province.

PBMA Founder's Shrine

DINAGATNONS CLAIM THAT the Province of Dinagat Islands was the promise of Ruben Ecleo, Sr., the gift of Ruben Jr., and the legacy of Glenda. A charismatic founder and leader of the cult organization Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, the elder Ecleo made Dinagat the family’s bailiwick on the strength of PBMA’s memberships.

In the mid-60’s PBMA gained ground as it enabled to solicit memberships from Mindanao and nearby islands and provinces. It claimed to have even offices and members outside the country.

PBMA Holy Land

Because of this, the Ecleos and the PBMA became a virtual political force, making Dinagat their personal fiefdom. Once elected as the mayor of San Jose in 1963, the elder Ecleo never relinquished the post until his death in 1987. He was the longest serving mayor in Surigao del Norte history. His remains were laid to rest in the grand PBMA Founder’s Shrine, a mausoleum funded and built by PBMA members acting in veneration on their charismatic and flamboyant Divine Master.

Glenda, meanwhile, was prodded by her husband to run for office. She started as a provincial board member in the early 1980’s. She then became the representative of the first district for four terms (1987-1992, 1992-95, 2001-04, 2004-07). Overlooking Melgar Bay is the governor’s imposing, palatial Islander’s Castle, a stark contrast to the economic status of her province.

PBMA President's House

Their oldest, controversial and fugitive son, Ruben Jr., was unwittingly thrust into political limelight upon the untimely demise of the Ecleo patriarch. In 1988, he became the first mayor of San Jose, a town created upon the legislative maneuverings of his mother Glenda. He was accused as the mastermind on the murder of his wife Alona Bacolod sometime in 2002. His conviction in the parricide case was promulgated in April this year, causing his removal as the representative of the lone district of Dinagat Islands.

Other Ecleos are well entrenched in Dinagat politics. Geraldine “Jade” Ecleo Villaroman is the incumbent vice governor; she will run against her mother in the gubernatorial race on May 13, 2013, possibly fragmenting the once tightly knit political family and the cult organization they lord over. She is the province’s first governor. The three adjoining towns of Basilisa, San Jose and Dinagat are under three of her siblings, Alan I, Alan II, and Gwendolyn, respectively.

Islander's Castle

YEARS OF UNABATED logging made the province sparsely forested with only coconut trees covering most of its hills and mountains. Dinagat Islands however is sitting on vast deposits of chromite, nickel and gold, making it very appealing to outside investors. The Dinagat Sound, Surigao Strait and several bays should provide gainful livelihood activities as well.

But the economic benefits of its natural resources may not have yet trickled down to the Dinagatnons aside from the parallel employments and activities that come along with the exploitation of its mineral deposits. Because of the legal entanglement its provincehood faced, its share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) were withheld or reduced and the appropriate capital expenditures and investments were not made. Infrastructure development and delivery of basic services were curtailed in the process. Construction and rehabilitation of roads are now on-going although the province has a long way to go.

Islander's Castle's Gate

IT REMAINS TO be seen how far Dinagat Islands can go insofar as economic development is concerned as a protracted mother-daughter political and personal battle looms in the young province’s horizon. The clashing of the matriarch representing the old traditions and status quo and the young turk modeling hope, optimism and dynamism will paint the political canvas in next year’s elections in Dinagat Islands. That will definitely shake the core foundations of the Ecleo family and their machinery – the PBMA – and will set what directions may lead them as well as the province’s future.

The squabble may be polarizing. That can either be a boon or bane depending on which political side one sits on. But the tremendous economic potential of the province alone should be an impetus for more growth and development that could be felt down the stream.

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Dinagat Islands

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Dinagat Islands 10.008333, 125.588889

Note: This is part of LegendHarry‘s Nov 21-29 Northern Mindanao-Caraga-Davao Trip. (1269)