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The city of Bislig, which has a population of just over 110,000, is located in the province of Surigao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines. The city is about six hours from Davao, and four hours from Butuan, in dry weather and provided the bus does not break down. Since early 2012, a twelve-seat plane flys to Butuan once a week, weather permitting. The school is located in the central business district, Mangagoy.

Most people live in basic wooden single-family homes, crammed tightly together on rented lots, housing, on average, seven people. Many also live in Nipa huts (bahay kubo), structures of tied bamboo, covered with the leaves of the Nipa, a palm-like tree.

These huts have been in use for thousands of years and are still popular among the rural poor. The one-time major employer here, providing as many as 27,000 jobs until recently, was Picop, the Paper Industry Corporation of the Philippines. Those executives not living in town accessed the outside world via private airstrip, and finished product moved out from their own pier by barge. The condition of local access roads was thus never their concern, and the company's considerable political influence during its prosperous times was apparently not put to good use for the town's residents. These days, the company is in bankruptcy, and every job is gone, save the few security staff guarding the rusting machinery.

There are other jobs, such as crab and shrimp fishing, but less than there used to be, due to the pollution of Bislig Bay by chemicals used in papermaking. There is some retail, schools, government, and hospitals, but clearly not enough yet to lift the town from its economic misery, with high unemployment and an exodus of the educated leaving for Davao, Cebu, and Manila, or overseas jobs in nursing and the merchant marine. The result is a brain-drain, which only accelerates in a vicious downward spiral. Picop grew the town years ago by attracting workers from far and wide with the promise of a reliable middle-class income. Many now survive on relatives' charity, selling their possessions in one of the many pawnshops around town, taking up loans with usurious interest, and contemplating moves to other towns, while unable to sell their homes and thus unable to liquidate their single most valuable asset. The poverty here, while not unusual in the developing world, is more keenly felt since people knew a better life for the decades the company was prospering; the town prospered with it, and is now suffering with it.

The honorable Librado Navarro has been mayor of Bislig since 2010, and his progressive policies are designed to help the common people live better lives. He has instituted many positive changes, large and small, and is particularly concerned with attracting new business to Bislig to make up for the demise of Picop. Among others, there are discussions with coal mining companies as well as foreign corporations investigating the feasibility of planting palms for oil extraction on the former Picop grounds. Given his experience and exposure (he is the former vice-governor of the province) as well as his extraordinary energy, combined with the gradual completion of the concreting of the access road from the national highway, which in 2009 was a mere logging road nicknamed shake-rattle-and-roll, there is reason for hope that Bislig’s fortunes may well improve during his tenure.
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