Monday, January 30, 2012

PUREZA - A Sober Look At Our Sugar Heritage

Sugar is the lifeblood of Silay and the rest of Occidental Negros.  It is in Silay City that Hawaiian Philippines Company, one of the biggest sugar centrals in the country is located. In fact, a few months ago, I wrote about the last remaining steam locomotives or iron dinosaurs still being used there today. But that is not the topic of this post... Sugar is and how this industry has affected the lives of the Negrense a.k.a Negrosanon.

On February 7, 2012, a full-length documentary film on the sugar industry of the island of Negros will be shown at SM Cinema, Bacolod.  The title is “Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar”, produced and directed by award winning cinematographer Jay Abello, himself a scion of rich landowners from Silay and Isabela.  The documentary traces the history of the Negros sugar industry and seeks to explain why the sugar industry today has "plunged from its proverbial pedestal into its inglorious present state".  This however isn't the first Filipino film made about the sugar industry, although it is the first ever documentary.  Remember Behn Cervantes' "Sakada" in 1976?  I remember how I negatively reacted to a preview written in The Varsitarian (UST's school paper) to the point where I even wrote the author about my displeasure.  I believed then that it gave an unfair portrayal of the situation in Negros. Of course that was probably because I was isolated from life in the haciendas.  My grandfather was a small landowner who had his farm leased out and my exposure to hacienda life was meeting Tyo Kisin, the trusted farmhand who came to Silay once in a while to give updates to my grandfather on how the farm was being managed by the lessee.  But as I matured and became more involved with social issues, I realized that my perception was far from reality. And when I eventually saw the movie Sakada much later in life, I belatedly knew that indeed it did show a lot truths.  How silly I must have sounded to the author (I remember he was a law student) of that article. If I had the chance to meet him again, I would say...mea culpa.  And I would not be making that same mistake.  

At present the small farm our grandfather left the family is still being leased, however for this crop year the lessee has informed us that he will no longer renew his contract. Why? For many reasons but mainly because he lacks workers and the high costs of fertilizers makes it unprofitable for him. The outlook for the sugar industry for the next 5 years is not good and for small landowners like us, that is really bad news.  To be fair, during the last 30 years or so, the sugar industry has undergone a lot of good changes. Still, that seems to be not enough.  Perhaps this documentary film may serve as a wake-up call for people who have the capacity, resources and power to make a difference for the survival of the sugar industry.

The film is produced by Bonfire Productions and Negros Pureza Foundation with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Executive Producers J. ABELLO, JOEY GASTON
Director J. ABELLO
Director of Photography J. ABELLO
Visual FX Supervisor RICHARD FRANCIA


February 7, 6:30pm – Premier at SM City Bacolod Cinema 3 (by invitation only)
February 11 – Free screening at Robinsons Place Bacolod as part of the Bacollywood: Cinema Rehiyon 2012
February 17 -  Regular screening at SM City Bacolod

Metro Manila showing: to be announced.  Please check the Pureza page on Facebook for updates.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Silay Stories: Remembering Idad Buang

Everyone who lived in Silay in the 50's up to early 70's knew of her. She would go around Silay in a black baro't saya, a veil, face fully made up and would kneel on the houses' stairs or doorsteps and start chanting in a singsong voice.  What you thought sounded like latin prayers were really more like incoherent words.  The "chant" would take about 2 to 3 minutes after which she is given money and then she quietly leaves to go to the next house. This happens in my Grandfather's  house at least once a week.  We all called her "Idad Buang".  The children were all a little bit scared of her because she looked like an old witch with her black hair and clothes. She never says a word except for her chanting and although she rarely looks at people, when she does, she had a really scary look.  I remember the househelp would use her to scare us everytime we start being unruly.  But who exactly was she?  Was she really crazy as everyone thought? Was she a beggar?  What was her story?  The story I later learned was that she was not the crazy woman beggar we all believed.  It seems that she was not really destitute (funny that people thought that, when she was always neatly dressed) and that the reason why she went around houses and doing the things she did was because of a vow or panata. And it was not to all houses in Silay that she went to because although she regularly came to my ancestral home, I don't remember her going to my grand aunt's home behind us. I also noticed that she usually went to houses with balconies and where she can kneel on the 3rd or 4th step.  People said that she was quite sane and functioned normally as soon as she finishes her "rounds". According to them, she looked quite different once she changes to her ordinary clothes.  To this day nobody really knows why she made that vow and nobody has really claimed that she was their family. I still don't know who she was...nobody bothered to know who she was then and on hindsight, I could have asked her but was too afraid for fear that she would put a hex on me if I even dared talk to her ( about the househelp's conditioning).  One day, she just stopped coming to my grandpa's house and we all assumed that she must have passed away. I remember that there were other "crazy" people around Silay in those days, but for sure, there was no one quite like Idad Buang.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Silay Stories: The Woman Who Never Spoke Again

Silay, just like small cities elsewhere has its share of ones, hidden ones and the not-so-secret kind that everyone knows a little something of but is not usually talked about. The story I am about to tell you is of the last kind.  It was talked about in whispers by our old folks but as kids, we were never really interested. I became curious about it when I started getting interested in the history of our heritage houses and in the course of my research, I learned more about this story our grandparents used to talk about.  Of course, I dare not write about it, thinking this was a not to be talked about secret...but someone did and he was family! This story was mentioned in passing in an article written by Teddy Boy Locsin about his summers in Silay in the April 2009 issue of Rogue Magazine. He writes, "like the woman with the long black hair who still lives in what is left of the best example of antebellum architecture and had spoken to no one since her parents had refused her marriage to someone poor—not even to her parents on their deathbed".  Well, now I can finally write my own version of that story, not because Mr. Locsin wrote about it, but because the main character has passed on.  The woman of Mr. Locsin's summers eventually became the old woman with long white hair.  I later found out through our genealogy book that she was a second cousin of my father from his father's side, making her my aunt, but I never knew her.  In fact, I have never seen her.  It was my son who mentioned her existence since he saw an old woman with long white hair in a wheelchair when he attended a friend's 18th birthday dinner, whose family happened to be living at the back of the main house. He of course did not know that she was a relative, and when he mentioned to me that he saw her...I was so excited! He gave me a puzzled look and so I told him our version of the story.

The woman who lived there was an only child of affluent parents.  Like most parents during that time, they tried to manage her life to what they deemed was best for her.  This daughter fell in love with a young man, studying to be a dentist.  He was not poor but he was not in the same level as her family...besides the family wanted her to marry within their own family circle. In spite of her parents opposition, the girl continued to see this young man. When it reached a point where she was not allowed to go out of the house alone, she locked herself in her room but continued to communicate with him through letters and notes via her best friend who was their common cousin. According to a nephew's version, typical of young love, she and her boyfriend made a vow to wait for each other even how long it takes or until her parents moved on to the next life. What was ironic was the fact that her father died in 1950 and her mother, in 1954...but by that time it was too late for her (she was 36).  You see, time changes things and after many years of playing the waiting game, the boyfriend and the bestfriend/cousin/confidante developed feelings for each other.  Eventually these two got married (maybe two or three years before the her father died in 1950 which, if you do your math, was a very late marriage in that era) and began a family.  Perhaps even more devastating for this aunt of ours was the fact that they lived one house away from hers across the street. She could see them from her balcony and second floor window.  So it's no wonder that this poor lady lost most of her rational mind.  It is said that she had her second floor removed (probably in the 60's) after her parents died.  Some says it's because she wanted a more modern home but I think it's because she just did not want to see that house across the street anymore. But those in the know says that it was not her decision but of those who were entrusted to care for her.  I don't exactly remember what the original house looked like, paying not much attention to it since it's facade was more or less covered with trees and other foliage, but when the second floor was removed, one can't help but notice because suddenly it did not look quite right.

And thus, this is my family's version of the story about the woman who never spoke again.  We, who are not privy to the complete story may never know what really happened and there are manyr versions, but all have one thing in common...a young woman in love, undesirable lover, parental objection to the relationship and a broken vow.  Last September 2, 2011, she passed away. She would have been 97 years old in 3 weeks time. She outlived both her lover and best friend.  She was always seen writing and left behind hundreds of notebooks where it is said she wrote her life story and rewrites this again and again for fear that the writing would fade and her story will disappear forever.  When I asked if the notes can be read, I was told that you need to use a lens to read the writing because beautiful though it is, it was very small.  I hope someone in her immediate family will have the patience to decipher the writing.  It will give us an insight to the person that she was.

Tita (I can finally call you that), Rest in Joyful Peace...