The mandarins of the Aquino government dish out a lie every so often that one cannot keep track of which among the many lies they pass off as true is the most egregious and brazen. Two weeks ago was an exception. The big, big lie was easy to catch as it was about a sector I am familiar with. It was about the supposed rebound of the sugar industry. And that sugarcane farming is now PH’s “2nd hottest job.”
The lie was so brazen that I temporarily forgot all about the sad story of a small sugarcane farmer—gloomily related to me just a day earlier—whose small plot was about to be taken over by creditors. After so many crop failures, he converted his meager sugar farm into a tilapia pond. Aqua culture crashed and he turned to small-scale sugar farming anew. It buried him deeper into debt. Now, the only plot of land he owns is up for foreclosure.
And now, we have Ms. Baldoz of the DOLE concocting a puppies and rainbows story about sugarcane farming as the “2nd hottest job.” Madam Secretary, not a fragment of your rosy story is true. I was once a small sugar farmer myself. So I know the heartbreaks and the misery of being one. Right now, I live amid hollowed-out small sugar farms, the tableau so grim and desperate that I really want your fake story to take place and be a Cinderella tale. For my neighbors’ sake. For the sake of their kids who abhor sugarcane farming because of the misery it brings. Do you know that children of small-scale sugar farmers would rather work as construction workers and DH (at slave-wage levels) in the Middle East than be the next generation sugar cane farmers?
Madam Secretary, I farm in what was once a flourishing sugar belt, Pampanga. The sugar industry was so big then that a sugar-trading family of Basque descent (the Ortigas family) was able to parlay the gains from sugar trading into a real estate empire. The former sugar trading family based in Porac town now has an entire CBD named Ortigas district. That was then. Now, this is the true state of the sugar industry in my province. I will start with the horrific optics.
There used to be two sugar centrals in my province and their production and revenue generation occupied a premier place in the regional economy. The Pampanga Sugar Mill was based in Carmen in Floridablanca town. The Pampanga Sugar Development Co., or PASUDECO, was based in the capital town of San Fernando, now a city.
The PASUMIL is gone, all of it. Nothing remains of the sugar complex that towered over a vast spread of western Pampanga towns just a few decades ago. It was once a sugar mill bound by manicured lawns and stables with Arabian horses, mostly for the sugar inspectors. The club house that hosted the meetings of the sugar lords during the boom times was laid in thick mahogany planks. Today, not a single physical reminder that a proud mill once stood there remains. Not a single steel relic is standing, wiped out clean by the tragic downturn of the sugar industry.
One can take comfort that Pasumil is entirely gone. The depths of gloom can’t go lower after you have seen what remains of PASUDECO.
PASUDECO is a collection of giant, hulking and rusting steel and the rotting trusses. It is a perfect setting for those shooting movies about dystopia, the collapse of a civilization and the ushering in of nightmare and dehumanization.
During the rainy season, a foot-high sedimentation stays, toxic and lethal. Rain water and rust meld to form pools of poison. Giant snakes and pythons abound after the toxic water shall have receded. This was the place which issued those priceless sugar quedans to the free-spending sugar barons. And the sugar barons that once controlled the affairs of PASUDECO were once king of Central Luzon’s economy.
Every now and then, there is talk that the PASUDECO will be up for rehabilitation. I talked to a sugar planter right after Ms. Baldoz was quoted vetting the authenticity of the “2nd hottest job.” He gave me two answers. Not true now. Will not be true in my lifetime.
He gave me a third answer. “I do not know the reasons behind Manny Pangilinan’s interest in the sugar industry but I do know it (the sugar industry ) is a hopeless case.” He is a fourth-generation planter and he knows what he is talking about.
The sugar industry is in such a bad shape that even the largest sugar complex in North-Central Luzon, the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) has now shifted to building malls and an industrial zone that hosts Sanyo, feed mills of San Miguel and other industrial/manufacturing concerns.
I do not know what part of the complex has been sold to private investors and what remains with the family of Ms. Baldoz’s Boss.
Before she spun the lie about sugar cane jobs rising, she should have consulted with her Boss for the depressing truth about the sugar industry and sugar workers. The industry needs “sacadas,” not real workers with decent pay and real economic benefits. Every milling cycle, there is a demand for sacadas. What sacadas do is more punishing than what prisoners do at penal colonies. Cane cutting is not a job for human beings. It is a stretch to call cane-cutting “hot jobs.” But then again, what do you expect of mandarins that have made verbal scamming, not truth-telling, their way of life.