The city that sugar made (Part I)-A A +A
As I See It
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
SILAY City, Negros Occidental is a city that will take you back to a bygone era. One would experience the splendor of the mansions of the sugar barons. The moment of reckoning slows down but the passing of time accelerates towards the promise of the future. Silay augurs a sweeter life and the past is remembered forever.
Dubbed by travel writers as “the seat of arts, culture and ecotourism,” Silay finds a place in the tourism map of the country as one of the 25 major tourist destinations in the country identified by the Department of Tourism since 1997. Silay was established as a pueblo in 1760 as indicated by Gov. Juan de Mijares of Negros in his report to the governor-general. It began to prosper as a leading town. While other settlements of Negros were into crude farming, Silay was into advanced agriculture, trade, commerce, industry, arts and culture.
On November 1, 1840, Fr. Eusebio Locsin of Molo, Iloilo became the parish priest of Silay. He encouraged his friends and relatives to come to Negros and become pioneer hacenderos in establishing haciendas. “The land is plenty and the soil is good. Negros is a sweet promise of tomorrow.”
In 1846, Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston from Normandy, France arrived in Negros. He started his hacienda in Buen Retiro. He planted Habana and Puerto Rico varieties of sugar canes from the French Isles of Mauritius and Bourbonne. He installed the first maquina de vapor horno ecoonomico (steam engine). Gaston produced the best muscovado sugar.
Before the steam engine, sugar was made in small batches from specially selected cane. John Etabag, human resource manager of the Hawaiian-Philippine Company said, “Sugar mills in those days were driven by carabaos, with each step of the process being painstakingly overseen by the expert sugar boiler known as the ‘Maestro’. His expertise and attention to detail from the pouring of syrup into trays until it cools and shocks into sugar result in authentic, specialty muscovado crystals with rich molasses having caramel flavor.”
The Gaston sugar was costing one peso per picul while others were sold at eighty five centavos. In 1860, Buen Retiro (now known as Guinhalaran) was placed under the definitive union with Silay. Simeon Ledesma and Juan Hilado arrived in Silay and established haciendas at Bagacay.
Later, other families from Iloilo followed – Locsins, de la Ramas, Jalandonis. Crown lands in Silay later were purchased by Filipinos (1885-1892): Vicente Conlu, Cresenciano Araneta, Severo de la Rama, Anecito Montelibano, Mariano de la Rama, Santiago Suanico, Evaristo Yemo, Isidro Hilado, Bernabe Moralidad and Meliton Canas.
Cornelio Hilado, Melecio Severino, Vito Marifosque and the Gamboas developed farm areas in Guimbalaon in 1880. The place is 14 kilometers east of Silay. Good income from sugar industry made Silay the “Paris of Negros.” Ramon Tinsay, one of the first graduates from the Normal School of Manila opened a school in Silay. The first boat service between Silay, Iloilo and the different towns in Negros was initiated by Isidro de la Rama.
Sugar became the bloodstream of Silay economy. In 1890, Fr. Patricio Adell of Silay and Fr. Francisco Roda of Saravia (now E.B. Magalona) initiated the construction of a road linking the two towns. Silay produced the best bricks and provided the made-in-Silay bricks to volunteer laborers who worked on the highway. Fr. Adell also supervised the road construction connecting Silay to Talisay and Bacolod using bricks from Silay.
Silay opened its 1.7-kilometer seaport in 1894. This was the longest in Asia at that time. This opened Silay to the world. Sugar export sent to the world market started here. Chinese laborers (headed by the Tan Kits) ventured into work in sugar mills (molino de sangre) as sacadas and carpenters for the mansions erected by the hacenderos of Silay. European performing artists had their shows back to back with Silay stage actors, singers, dancers and orchestra. They came to Silay without passing Manila.
Calle Real (now Rizal Street) was the shopping center in Negros where the best food and imported items from Europe were sold. The “buen familias” would park their cars in front of Iglesia de San Diego and Plaza Olympia Severino (the Most Beautiful Plaza of the Philippines in 1951) to have their promenade until sunset and later socialize with the Negros noted artist at Kahirup Theater.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 31, 2012.