By Cha Monforte
The fall and rise of industrial giant Iligan City
Iligan City, the city most touted before as the country’s industrial giant with the National Steel Corporation’s shining presence, is obviously now living to be self-feeding to its development and urbanization. I went to the city for a short break recently and found it to have already more high, big buildings and malls.
Fifteen years ago, it was only Gaisano Mall, east of the city’s central business district and by Tambacan coast at its rear, that claimed the title of having structural dominance among the rest. Rundown big buildings owned by city’s pioneer families and businesses are still on brisk lease business in the city’s main street, the Roxas Avenue, like what remains to be old buildings in Claveria and San Pedro streets in Davao City.
Iligan City before particularly in the 80s and 90s was propped up by the now dead NSC. It was NSC and its downstream industries which fueled the city’s economy. The super company had over 4,000 workers working in three shifts. The NSC workers were considered as the elites in the city’s working class for having fat salaries.
In my decade of monthly travels in city in the 90s, I did not hear about the orig NSC workers striking. What was there to strike at when even their gray company polos or NSC IDs were treated like credit cards when NSC’s night owls and drunkards had left nothing to spend for more during the wee hours at the height of drunkenness in city’s R & R joints, dancing halls, drinking bars and brothels.
Besides the NSC the city has still three cement factories, coco oil factories and other obnoxious manufacturing plants and ancillary industries operating in its northern corridor along the national highway. They rose up from threats of the first wave of disadvantageous trade liberalization and dumping of cheap steel and cement that came in the early 2000, though one said the corporate ownership structure had changed. The city’s Kiwalan area is still covered with snow of cement dusts. That’s still visible when the bus I was riding on passed by along the area peopled with informal settlers.
The urban poor folks are still there, along the city’s highway, like in the Timoga soils where I had trodden on for many times to bridge negotiations between the urban poor occupants and the powerful Macaraig-Macapagal family. It’s almost two decades now when they faced a spectre of demolition and relocation, and they might just be lucky that their makeshift structures remain, as the mother of ex-PGMA, Dona Eva Macaraig and late ex-President Dadong Macapagal have obviously the heart. Or they don’t have no plan yet – and ever- to develop Dona Eva’s inherited land adjacent to the famous Timoga flowing pools from cool spring waters splurged from above ground, near Ma. Cristina Falls. The last agreement forged was for the urban poor settlers to be relocated to the other property of Dona Eva in nearby Barangay Buruun.
The sprawling compound of the NSC is now almost a forest with high growing gmelina trees. An ex-NSC employee said to me that in 2000 the NSC went bankrupt after the bar slab steels were eliminated in the production chain. He said it was caused by a national policy. NSC then was the receiver of Mindanao’s all steel scraps which it recycled to be good, non-substandard steels for domestic consumption.
After NSC’s collapse, he said in his raw recollection, few years after, NSC reopened under a new operator who was a “tihik nga insik”. The re-operation was short-lived. “Maybe Chinese steel businessmen are continuing to lobby to President PNoy Aquino that we are still importing substandard steels from China,” he said. That’s a simple recollection that’s etched in collective memory of the NSC workers.
Rightly, there was a fall of an industrial giant, that was Iligan City. NSC was the pride of the Philippine industry, being the largest steelmaking plant in Southeast Asia. But it’s another story to tell. Regardless of the fall, the city continues to be still an industrial in character more in its north than in its south where the rusting NSC plant is located.
But Iligan City has urbanized greatly more than a decade after with the locating of new Gaisano Mall at its center, and more restos, dine ins, and medium bazaars along its old main streets. An ex-police chief has replaced the politicians of the old political clans and families in running the City Hall. He is Mayor Celso Regencia. At dusk in its known “traffic light” corner, an electronic billboard runs the mayor’s campaign, “Welcome to the City of Waterfalls.” (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews)