Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Billones: No Science Fiction
IN A past column I spoke about earthlings. Here comes Pare Ely de los Santos talking about “alien candidates”. But, of course he is not referring to extra-terrestrials. I agree, though, with much of Pare Ely’s wondering aloud about “alien candidates” joining the political fray in Negros Occidental. However, rather than dwell on the “who”, I look instead into the “why” of the matter.
I have always shared the view that a political system is a product of the economic base that produces wealth and sustenance for society. It was not unusual that during the halcyon days of sugar, the makeup of the political leadership in Negros Occidental, particularly, Bacolod City, was determined by the demands and requirements of sugar production. It was not particularly remote that all positions of power in the province were configured according to the sharing arrangements among the captains of the sugar industry.
Northern Negros then was lorded over by the Gustilos, central Negros by the Montelibanos, and the south by the Gatuslaos and the Montillas. The governorship of the province was a perennial contest among these sugar families. Indeed, the composition of Negros Occidental’s political structure might as well have been decided on some golf course, or in some sugar industry boardrooms. The capital is well within the central territory so it was not unusual that Bacolod City Hall would be shaped and molded by the Montelibano hand, perhaps with some accommodation for the other parties in the city council.
The configuration radically changed with martial law. Taking advantage of the crisis in the early seventies, Marcos made a coup by appointing his close friend Roberto Benedicto to take over the reins of the sugar industry. The traditional political leaders were caught flat-footed and different interests started to redefine the political make up. Loyalties began to shift, and new organizations cropped up, setting off an exodus of people from traditional parties. Negros politics was never the same again.
The downfall of Marcos did not lead to the rebuilding of the sugar industry. Rather, the dismantling of the sugar monopoly only led to further weakening of the politics of sugar. The passing of the strong traditional industrial leaders spawned a sprouting of several groups and associations unable or unwilling to work with one another. This lack of unity has placed sugar planters at a disadvantage in dealing with millers and traders. It has also weakened the position of the industry in the shaping of government regulatory policy and legislation.
As a result, the sugar industry has lost, not only its capacity to create wealth and sustain development, but also its challenge and appeal as a socio-economic venture. The haciendero is a disappearing breed, unable to find second-liners in this generation. In politics, this is reflected in the lack of new leadership stock, creating openings for personalities presenting alternative thought.
The appearance in the Negros political scene of “alien candidates” as Pare Ely would put it, is symptomatic of a search for fresh political leadership in a Negros society looking for a new economy. These “aliens” might as well represent new ideas untainted by the sugar experience.
I am not surprised that these new faces present themselves in what used to be the sugar heartland-Benitez in the third district, Gonzales and Golez in Bacolod City.
Of all the sections of Negros Occidental, the third district is practically dependent on sugar production for its survival and existence. However, faced with a rapidly growing population, the industry is no longer able to promise or propel development. Clearly, confronted by an uncertain future, the district has to open its marketplace of ideas to alternative development paths.
Bacolod City, on the other hand, suffers from an ambivalence of direction. For lack of a definitive economic path, its political structure cannot but be a holdover from the fallout following the demise of traditional political clans. The present leadership and the challengers are of the same cast and mold, creations of erstwhile politicians with no original principles of their own. Expectedly, their political battles are not in the presentation of new ideas, but in the tug-of-war for the control of aging organizations left behind by the demise of traditional leaders. These are not men pedigreed in the crucible of development and historical decisions; rather, these are people who go at each other’s throats fighting over the spoils and crumbs of long-forgotten battles. During the past years, Bacolod City grew not because of them, but in spite of them.
Today, if we look closely at the explosion of new business enterprises, we are actually seeing the shift of a large portion of resources from agricultural investment to non-traditional projects. It will not be long before these new and young entrepreneurs would realize that failures in these new projects are not because they thought out bad business schemes, but primarily due to the lack of strong market fundamentals in a primarily agri-based economy. Clearly, new ideas are called for.
Instead of looking at these “aliens” with suspicion then, I would say let us welcome them and listen to what they have to say. We might just be in for surprises.
And I’m not talking science fiction.