SUGARCANE is saccharum officinarum. It is a perennial grass growing in a warm climate. The cane grows to a height of 2 to 5 meters and has narrow, cornlike leaves and stalks. The stalks (yellow, green, purple, or striped, depending on the variety) are composed of short jointed sections that contain the sweet, juicy pith. The plant is usually propagated by planting section of the stalk known as patdan (cane points) in shallow furrows. Sugarcane grows best in Negros Occidental.
When Fr. Eusebio Locsin of Molo, Iloilo became a parish priest of Silay in 1840, he invited his relatives and friends to come to Silay and be frontier farmers. Forest and cogonal areas were identified and converted into farms. The first haciendas were in the vicinity of the town of Guinhalaran and along the bank of Imbang River.
In 1846, Frenchman Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston from Normandy, France brought with him varieties of Havana and Puerto Rico sugarcane from the French isles of Mauritius and Bourbon. He started his farm at Hda. Binonga and Puyas. The other haciendas followed – Cabug, Adela, Lantad, Guinsang-an, Maquina, Panaogao, Kabankalan. Gaston introduced later his steel mill with horizontal rollers. It replaced the obsolete molino de sangre which used vertical cylinders of hard molave as rollers for crushing sugarcane to release sweet juice after passing the stalks 3 or 4 times between the jaws.
Eugenio Lopez had the first steam engine in the place now known as Hda. Maquina of Julio Ledesma. Later, Talisay and Bacolod followed. Mascuñana, an intelligent and hard-working Spaniard, introduced the first European plows in his hacienda and began making centrifugal sugar at San Ildefonso de Minuluan and at Constancia in Bago.
Now, we enjoy the best refined or organic muscovado sugar in our coffee, favorite soda or refreshing juice. In the pioneering stage of the industry, the sugary juice known as intus was boiled and concentrated in small Chinese kettles called cauas , over primitive oven which were nothing more than small mounds.
At first, there were no chimneys; but later, imposing and majestic simboryos were constructed (just like the replica you see at the boundary of Silay and Talisay).
Gaston was the first to install in Silay the first European kettles together with his iron mill popularly known as maquina de vapor horno economico. The syrup was cooled and molded into quintales, wooden rectangular moulds into which sugar was allowed to solidify. The dry sugar was called pilon. This was broken up, crushed and packed into rough buri mats. I got this story from the files of the late Carlos L. Locsin.
Sugar from Negros was loaded into a schooner, a fore and aft vessel with 2 or more masts, to be sold in Manila. During that time, there was no established port in Iloilo yet. Maurauding Moro pirates were salivating at the open seas waiting for the rich cargo. If lucky, the schooner would reach Manila in 3 to 4 weeks. Next, came the binagol or panocha sugar packed in bucut or liplip of buri leaves tied around with rattan, and later the earthenware and galvanized casks.
Julian Hernaez of Iloilo started to buy Negros sugar and experimented on the crop-loan system by giving alili on sugar at P1.00 or P1.50 per picul. Capitan Teodoro Benedicto was the next sugar comprador who started the classification of sugar into pilon, superior and inferior grades. It is believed that sugarcane was planted first in Himamaylan sometime in 1650 by a sacristan. Long before Magellan land grabbed the Islands in 1521, there was already sugar in our country. Our ancestors called it sarkhara, the food of the gods.
Silay shared its leaders who directly or indirectly influenced the sugar industry. They made notable footprints in the sands of time. Don Juan L. Ledesma was indisputably acclaimed as the biggest individual sugarcane planter of the Philippines. He was the president of the Negros Navigation Company and of the San Carlos – Vallehermoso – Calatrava Planters Association. Hon. Jose C. Locsin was not only a sugarcane planter. He became councilor of Silay, governor of Negros occidental, senator of the Republic of the Philippines, and got more positions in the national government. Don Oscar Ledesma became president of the Confederacion de Associaciones y Plantadores de Caña Dulce, Inc. Later, he became also a senator.
Don Ricardo C. Lacson founded the Philippine Law School. Don Serafin P. Hilado became director of Lands and Solicitor General. Don Jose B. Gamboa, a brilliant lawyer, became president for 4 consecutive years of the University Club of Bacolod. He was an owner-planter of Ma-ao Sugar Central, Victorias Milling Company and Talisay-Silay Milling Co. Don Julio Ledesma, a sugar baron, travelled extensively in Europe, America and the Orient to study modern farming methods adoptable to local conditions. Don Carlos L. Locsin was an excellent agriculturist who became the first president of the Phil. Assn. of Sugar Technologists. Don Aurelio Locsin was an outstanding journalist. Don Generoso Gamboa was mayor of Silay and a dedicated agriculturist.
I only have a handful to tell. More were there in the frontline, especially the workers who lived and died for the industry. From the sweetness of our sugar, we shall exist. From the sweat of our brow, we shall survive!