Perspective on hacendados
John Larkin’s “Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society” made me reimagine the hacendados or landowners of vast sugarcane farms in Negros island not only as economic and political titans of Philippine society but rather as lords of a separate and distinct nation within a nation dating back to the years immediately post the defeat of the Spanish colonial power.
I pored over that book in the library of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism six years ago when I became a reporter for the Center and was assigned to write a long-form piece on political clans in the island.
Sugar was both fount and base of the hacendados influence not only in the island but in the country.
It was said in the book that even before the Battle of Manila Bay was won and even before Aguinaldo formally headed a nascent Philippine Republic, the hacendados had already arranged for sugar shipments to the United States.
Before the 20th century arrived, the hacendados had become the first global traders even before the age of globalization.
It is of no surprise that even with the change of colonial masters, from the Spaniards to the Americans, the hacendados retained their control of land in Negros as a result of leading the 1898 Revolt now celebrated as the Cinco de Noviembre or the ruse that freed Negros from the Spanish.
The recent fiasco over Sugar Order No. 4 that has led to the resignation of a country sugar chief and the recommendation of charges against him and four others should be viewed against a wider context.
There have been numerous squabbles over sugar importations, as far back as I can recall, to former SRA chief Wilson Gamboa Sr who pointed out that the problem with the industry is the “triple nature” of some planters who are also millers and traders.
The disagreements are usually public but there are also hushed talks about who will earn from importation with some names being thrown about in coffeeshops and in “off the record” talks of industry leaders with reporters.
New Sugar Board member Pablo Luis Azcona, a high school classmate in La Sallie-Bacolod, agrees that importation is not the solution to the woes of the industry.
It has, however, become a quick fix to the annual problem over the past 30 years or so, he told this writer.
Productivity is an issue that has not been front and center in the Negros sugar industry, a rarely talked about if not largely undercovered issue by the local press that would rather prefer scandals and conflicts or the political preferences of sugar industry leaders.
Even the mainstream Left – the Communist Party and its aboveground organizations – that is always at the opposite political pole to the hacendados, does not give an iota of a care to the issue of productivity.
This, however, is expected as the Left prefers to give lip service to issues in the sugar industry.
To the Left, the sugar industry is part of the capitalist system that the CPP believes has already become moribund and will, in time, collapse.
To the CPP, the woes of the sugar industry is caused by the landlords, the “agalon mayduta” it considers to be its chief domestic enemy.
It is not, in the interest of the CPP, therefore to fund solutions to the woes of the industry for its death will mean the death of its enemies even if the industry’s collapse will mean the collapse of the Negros economy, too.
Then again, the Communists don’t care. Like the Americans, they can find opportunity in the ensuing chaos and confusion that just might, just might make their teetering half-century revolution win.
Have the hacendados failed to evolve with time? Have they continued to act like the privileged nation they once were even in the era of globalization?
Is Negros turning its back on the industry that built it?
In the next part we shall go over important points in Larkin’s book and try to link the past and present events in the industry and how these might provide us a glimpse into the future.