Part one of this series started with a brief discussion of the writer’s takeaway from the book of John Larkin, Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society, perhaps among the most authoritative books on the sugar industry written by an American author this writer has read by far.
The Negros hacendados are usually depicted as the far right of the political spectrum, sugar barons who are described by local Communists as “oppressive and exploitative” and who represent a “moribund” economic syatem supported by a “decadent” culture. The Marxists-Maoists throw in more adjectives to paint these hacendados as vile exploiters, rentseekers in economic terms who grew rich from off the land and the local economic system they have nurtured.
This is “correct” if viewed from the class conflict perspective of Marxists who fear only one thing: running out of enemies. It is they – at least their cadres, some of whom have grown fat and rich from their protracted people’s war – who believe in the never-ending contradictions that they preach to the masa.
Larkin’s book points to the fact that the Negros hacendados did not benefit from the political system. It is they from which the structure of modern Philippine politics sprung from. It is the export earnings of the sugar industry that the republic depended on up until the 70s when sugar no longer enjoyed preferential treatment in the American market.
When sugar lost its place as a major export earner, the hacendados had to struggle to maintain their status. Some viewed it as “merisi (loosely translated as ‘good for you’)” for all their lavish lifestyle yet shabby treatment of their workers. When President Marcos Sr came, some hacendados became “cronies” and “lapdogs,” while others flirted with the Left, both aboveground and underground.
It is even whispered until now that without the support of some sugarplanters, the underground Communist Party and the New People’s Army in Negros would not have become one of the strongest rebel regional formations across the country. Underground sources estimate that the NPA strength grew to around 500 rifles or a Battalion of regular and militia fighters.
Incensed by Marcos Sr’s alleged plunder of the sugar industry, some Negros hacendados supported Cory Aquino who, after being swept to power, unveiled a land reform program that the hacendados opposed. The Communists, which the planters supported against Marcos Sr, became their enemies, too and the planters (the feudal lords to them) went back to being one of the “three major enemies of the people,” along with US imperialism and bureaucrat capitalism.
When sugarplanters complain nowadays, Negrenses seem to not care. Why? Possibly because even if the island is the sugar producing capital of the country, prices of the refined commodity here recently went beyond the P100 per kilo level and have always been expensive for consumers. Sugarworkers organizations, on the other hand, some mostly ideological agents rather than advocates of labor welfare, seem to not care a whit, too. After all, the hacendados are the class enemy.
The sugar industry seems to have become an orphan, shivering in the face of a globalized world economy that has shown it to be less than competitive even in the Asian market aline. This is ironic for it was actually Philippine sugar that was first exported to the US market compared to other sugar producing economies in the region.