Growing old in Negros

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Thursday, January 9, 2014


(First of Three Parts)

THIS article is not about the senior citizens. This is about the Negrosanos who were born here and decided to grow white hair here. They are those who witnessed the Negros climate change. They saw action and many of them were participants, if not combatants in the drama of life in the province sweetened by sugar.

Those who are 80 years old and above would always say that “peace time” was the best that Negros ever had. “Peace time” would always refer to the time before the outbreak of World War II when employment was easy (in the haciendas or sugar mills).

It was the time when money was not a problem and a ganta of rice was cheap. It was the time when education was not a priority. The children were attracted to the sugarcane fields and they could just use their thumb marks at the payroll to claim their salary. The “hacendados” were providing free housing to their “jornaleros.”

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Mascovado sugar mills were replaced by centrifugal sugar mills. Sugar in the world was in great demand because of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and Panama Canal was closed. Uncle Sam considered Juan de la Cruz to be his sugar provider. When the Americans left the Philippines in 1946, there were 16 sugar centrals (mills) in Negros.

We could mention the best Bacolod-Murcia Milling Co., Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company, Ma-ao Sugar Central Company, Talisay-Silay Milling Company, North Negros Sugar Company (Manapla), Victorias Milling Co., San Carlos Milling, Hawaiian-Phil. Co., Central Azucarera de La Carlota, Danao Development Corporation, and Lopez Sugar Corporation.

“Ang kuarta sa Negros ginapala kag ginapiko” is true. The “hacendados” became so powerful that they were able to establish the sugar bloc in the Philippine Congress. It was even alleged that this sugar bloc made a lobby at American Congress with their “sugar portfolio” to sweeten the deal with the American Congress for the approval of Philippine Independence. I heard this allegation because I am a Silaynon, and a Silaynon statesman was a major player in Philippine politics and economy during that time. The farmers from the neighboring provinces were so envious of the sugarcane workers rendering services to the “hacendados” under the supervision of the “encargados.” The rice farmers of Antique, and Capiz abandoned their rice paddies having one harvest a year to become “sacadas” in Negros. The “sacadas” became victims of their own contractors. A little amount was left for their families and they paid high interest to their contractors.

It was realized later that the “haciendas” in Negros were not heaven for the “sacadas.” They were made to live like slaves in the “sacada kuartel” (one big house made of nipa and bamboo where the living room is the dining room and bedroom). They were provided one kitchen and they have to cook rice and “laswa” (mixed vegetables) in “cawa” (cauldron). The six-month milling season at least provided them a little sum to go back to their provinces and work again at the rice paddies during the rainy season.

The sugar industry gave rise to sugar politics. Up to now, one cannot be a governor of Negros Occidental if he is not “hacendado.” Most towns and cities here have “hacendado” mayors. Since then up to now, most local government units have their mayors not just because of intellectual voters only. A candidate has to consider the hacienda swing vote.

Sugarcane workers do not have direct link to the mayors. They have their umbilical cords attached directly to the landlords (with exception in few farms).

That was “peace time.” Those who are in college now, your grandparents will always tell you the value of five centavos and ten centavos during the time of President Quirino, President Magsaysay, President Garcia and President Dadong Macapagal. Those were the years when Negrosanons would purchase rice by a ganta, not per kilo (just like what we do now). Most of us do not know “peace time.” We were not there.

(To be continued)

Opinion

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