Sangil: Pampanga’s sugar industry has met a slow death

Insufficient attention has been paid to the sugar industry by previous administrations. Now scarcity, smuggling and importing accompanied by corruption. According to a report, it is stated that the international price is 22 pesos and local prices vary from 70 pesos to 100 pesos per kilo. What is the term here? Crisis. Oh no? Companies that depend on sugar, such as bottling companies, can either move to neighboring countries, which can result in the layoff of thousands of workers. The less is to reduce production and that would also mean a reduction in labor.

In my youth in Porac, I remember there were times when my mother would send me to Apung Pepang whose store was a stone’s throw from our house and I could ask for a free cup of sugar. A ganta of brown sugar was then worth ten centavos. There were parents like Marciano Dizon aka Tatang Ciano who gave our family a bag of brown sugar every year. During President Diosdado Macapagal’s administration, Dizon became chairman of Philsugin, the precursor to the Sugar Regulatory Board.

The agricultural lands of the city were then mainly sugar cane fields and the main sugar planters were Apung Bentong of Mesa, a cousin of my father and Primo David, husband of Servillana Lumanlan, a niece of my mother. Pampanga Sugar Mill (PASUMIL) was located in Del Carmen, Florida Blanca and crushed the harvested canes. The first plantadores were the Guanzons, Dimsons, Guecos, Vitugs and many others. The mill was founded in 1917 and financed by American investors. During milling season, hundreds of freight trucks stood in a long line waiting their turn to be weighed. It was also the main export crop and mostly shipped to the United States due to quota allocation.

The Porac-Gumain River was not silted up unlike today and continued to flow past the town of Florida Blanca. In those years, by my estimation, it was 15 feet deep and all the kids in town learned to swim there. Farmers largely depended on it. Palay, vegetables grew on the vast farmland but a larger one was mostly planted with sugar cane. Hectares after hectares dotted the roads leading to Florida Blanca. In many towns in the province, such as San Fernando, Magalang and Mabalacat, agricultural land was mainly planted with sugar cane. The farmers of those years were simply happy and content with the decent income they got from the land.

The Pampanga Sugar Development Company (PAUDECO) arrived a year after PASUMIL. It was a purely Philippine capital and was incorporated in 1918. It began to be transformed in 1921. The elderly among us will remember these two iconic chimneys. If smoke came out of these chimneys, it would mean milling season and the plantadores were happy. They occupied the front seat in the cockpit and the first two or three rows in the churches were reserved for their families. They were yesterday’s tycoons.

The Chinese taipans have now come later and outstripped the plantadores. Taipans like Lucio Co of Puregold, Lucio Tan of LT Companies, late John Gokongwei, late Henry Sy of SM and Andrew Tan of Megaworld Corporation started as small merchants before landing in Forbes magazine’s top 500 richest. (PASUDECO) was sold to Andrew Tan and is currently being developed as a mixed-use domain. Many sugar cane growers sold their farmlands and became housing estates. Others diverted to other business ventures but did not succeed like the Chinese.

The shortage of sugar in the country will persist as there is no revitalization effort from the government and private sector. The sugar industry has suffered a slow death and no encouragement is seen from the government. The country used to export tons and tons and now we are importing tons and tons. Sad.

Rachel J. Bradford