CADIZ CITY – As you round a bend just meters away from a cane transloading station going here, you would notice to your left a house stripped of paint, its white concrete structure seemingly lonely, forlorn, like a lover left behind in a park.
Four weather-beaten concrete posts frame the view.
Then you notice the manicured garden.
Still lush with bermuda grass, it rises steeply from the cyclone wire fence. “Subidahon na sir para budlay lusubon sang NPE,” a tricycle driver tells me over coffee, in a semi-hushed tone.
Subidahon is steep in Hiligaynon, one of those bastardized Spanish words that found its way into the language.
“NPE” is the mispronounced short for New People’s Army or NPA, the once formidable armed wing of the local Communist Party of the Philippines.
Once capable of large-scale armed offensives, the NPA has been reduced to what defense analysts and Army officials call as a “ragtag” bunch of “terrorists” who “extort” from poor farmers to survive (but the NPA is not the story here).
That house used to be a fixture of power, a throwback to a time not so long ago when “warlords” (as some critical historians call them) walked the occidental side of Negros island.
It was a fortress by the river, bristling with guns and a private army. In those days, residents say.
The owner of the house, Armin Gustilo, was one of those warlords. Hacendado or sugarcane plantation owner, businessman, a friend of the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. who declared martial rule in 1972 and held the country in his grip until 1986 when he was ousted by a civilian-backed military uprising now known as EDSA Uno.
Once totally dependent on sugarcane farming like the entire province known as the “Sugar Bowl” of the Philippines, Cadiz has seen a rise and fall in its fortunes since the industry went on a tailspin.
That plunge in fortunes started in the late 70s when the heavily export-dependent commodity saw prices plunging to less than a US centavo per kilo in the American market.
Cadiz, like the province, saw a multitude of starved children – the Batang Negros (Children of Negros). Their bodies were like “bones wrapped in skin and they were as heavy as feathers,” was how one activist who worked for a relief organization in the 80s described them to this writer.
By the turn of the 90s, Cadiz once again bore the brunt of an economic crunch as sugar imports led to low prices of the domestic commodity.
As if this series of unfortunate events was not enough, Cadiz fell on hard times again in the late 90s when the Asian financial crisis hit another major industry of Cadiz: fishing.