I can finally say I did it! Fresh from my Dagupan trip witnessing the swimming competition at Palarong Pambansa, I made my way though heavy rain to reach Fullybooked in Bonifacio High Street. Nope, I was not there to buy a newly-release novel or even buy a comic book but rather to watch one of the most controversial documentaries of the present – PUREZA, The Story of Negros Sugar. With barely a second since the documentary started, I was “forced” to sit a couple of seats away from DepEd Sec. Br. Armin Luistro FSC with notables in film and media. The number of people, especially from the blogosphere, was testament to the fact that people outside Negros have long been curious of this opulent Negrenses that even surprised Imelda Marcos.
Months before, I interviewed the film director Jay Abella over at Kuppa Fort Bonifacio for a detailed teaser of a premiere done in SM City Bacolod. Even as I already know the issues and scope in the story, it was a fresh experience being a witness and at the same time, judge for such a great work. Just as I had discussed with Direk Jay, it touch very much on sensitive issues of Negros Sugar Industry. More than being a documentary about the industry, it was also a social commentary on the lifestyle and the prevailing attitudes of the Negrenses. As I believe, the solution to the woes of the sugar industry in Negros will not only save the province of its heritage industry but also other problems like governance, economics, tourism and even the field of sports.
Negros Hacienderos are mostly of mixed origins, with mostly of Spanish decent. Among Spaniards, there are the Castillans, Basques and Catalans. Apart from the Spaniards, French with some of Jewish decent and merchant Chinese also settled in the islands and had a good life from trade of sugar. Who would not have one with a commodity that is constantly in demand around the world? With the expiration of the Laurel-Langley Agreement, things started to go awful when the sugar prices dropped from three digits to two and worse, eventually one-digit prices. NASUTRA monopoly led by Marcos crony, Roberto S. Benedicto did not help and in fact worsened the problem with corruption and inconsistencies in the sugar loaning system.
The change of regime from Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino did not help either in solving the problem especially when Land Reform was instituted that gave land to farmers. This was a huge blow to the sugar industry for this greatly reduced since unlike rice, sugar was meant to planted on large fields and not small plots. While this was an answer to the supposed labor abuse of the Marcos Era, it did not help in empowering farmers since none of the them had an income sufficient to till the land. Just as the industry was coping, another challenge came in with the incoming free entry of cheap Thai Sugar through the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement or AFTA. Rice and Sugar are seen to be the ones that will be greatly affected with this open competition.
The Sugar Crisis was not without warning though since a number of economists and Negrense businessmen has already predicted the outcome but no one listened. Negrense Hacienderos are themselves fragmented without common cause with many interest groups that branch off as more disagreements ensued. Was it really just the Laurel-Langley Agreement, NASUTRA and Roberto S. Benedicto who are at fault or is it pride? In a nutshell, Negros Island could have been where Cebu is right now if people only cared to listen and actually unite to act for these problems to have not occurred in the first place. I hope this made you think again of what we have done and what should be done in the future or else the sword of Damocles will continue to hang.
As much as I want to discuss further, it would be good if you see the film first hand for you to have an idea. PUREZA The Story of Negros Sugar will Premiere in Manila this coming May 31 at Powerplant Mall Cinema at Rockwell Center Makati. Just to make you more interested, Negros Island produces 70 to 80% of the country’s sugar yield which means the sugar you might be using at home may have come from the sugar mills of the Island. Now curious of why your most ordinary of commodity brought both riches and problems to an island it enriched? The ticket prices are at P400 which can finance film showings around the country especially in universities. For schedules on the ticket prices and available seats, you may visit the official blog of PUREZA.