I was a young reporter when the Philippine Senate started its hearings as a committee of the whole on the country’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization through the ratification of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.
The cheerleader then of the country’s membership into the GATT was a woman senator, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a former secretary of trade, married to a sugarplanter. To my mind then, the only significant resistance, resistance being “noisy,” was from the legal Left.
The other Left, the underground and armed one led then in the island by Frank Fernandez, was busy mouthing the monotone monologues of Joma Sison against globalization even as their guerrillas were busy collecting money from the “kaaway,” the enemies who were willing to pay both rebel and soldier if only to spare their precious canes from being torched.
It was only the Left that warned of a grim future, that gloomy disposition being the nature of the Left. It was one of those rare moments that the Left foresaw rather accurately the future that we are living now – of the sugar industry gasping for breath in the face of the deluge of imports.
The planters? Most of them danced along with Gloria, lured by assurances that there would be safety nets via the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF), which according to press reports, was mired in corruption and controversy over the past years. It was revived recently under the Duterte administration with an initial budget of P4 billion.
Have the sugarplanters, the hacendados of Negros brought the bane of liberalization upon themselves by failing to oppose it in its initial stages, that is in the 1990s when the Senate consultations were being held?
Victorias City Mayor Manuel Frederick Palanca thinks otherwise, calling the WTO entry, a decision “rammed down our throats.”
It is incorrect, he pointed out to me, that the planters did not oppose the country’s WTO membership though he admitted that the planters, if at all, failed to get their acts together.
Why is it that even the general public, the masa if you may, does not seem concerned with the planters who are now twitching and wincing even during the milling season that was once a time of plenty?
Why is there a seeming indifference to the plight of the sugar industry and other agricultural sub-sectors like palay production upon which the local economy is still largely dependent upon?
Are people sneering at the planters, especially the big ones, who are perceived to have not shared their wealth when the sugar industry was in its heydays?
Indeed, while most of us are all too familiar with the stories of the Barreto sisters, Batman, Iron Man, and Vice Ganda, we are unfamiliar with what is truly Negrense: the sugar industry.
Perhaps it is time to pause, take stock and discern that perhaps, in the end, the fault, as Cassius said to Brutus, “is not in the stars but in ourselves.”