The Negros Island politics: Oligarchy of sugar barons

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The politics of Negros is controlled by the sugar barons and the landed gentry mostly of Spanish blood who came to the Philippines between the eighteenth and nineteenth century and obtained huge encomiendas. They are the hacienderos who own and control thousands of hectares planted to sugarcane. They put up sugar centrals and monopolize the sugar trading in the whole country. Those who control the economy necessarily control the politics. The golden rule to them means: He who owns the gold makes the rules. Sugar is Negros' gold.

The Negros elite want a separate Negros Island Region, autonomous and independent. The Western Negrense elite do not want to play second fiddle to the Iloilo business tycoons, taipans and moguls. They want to be separate from Panay. The eastern Negrense also do not want to be a part of Cebu because their wealthy politicians are richer than Cebuano trapos, although their poor peasants are much poorer than the strong middle class in Cebu. That is really the strength of the Cebuanos. We do have a very strong middle class, largely educated, skilled and daring migrants who send home billions of remittances annually. The Negros socio economic profile indicates 10 % percent ultra rich, 20 % middle class and 50% poor and 20 % very poor. That is why the NPA insurgency has flourished there. In Cebu, it is 15 % super rich, 50 % middle class and 25% poor with only 10% very poor.

During the last few years of the PNoy presidency, the powerful sugar bloc in the House and silently supported by their fellow oligarchs in the Senate have pressured the President to create a separate administrative region called the Negros Island Region. Negros Occidental was separated from Region 6 based in Iloilo. Negros Oriental was separated from Region 7 based in Cebu City. But it was short-lived, only from May 29, 2015 up to August 9, 2017. President Duterte recalled the executive order issued by PNoy. Lately, under the BBM, the local officials of the two provinces of Negros have succeeded to revive the campaign to revive one Negros, one region. Sang Pulo, Sang Negros, is their battle cry. The Legislative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution is reportedly warm to this idea.

It happened that the late Governor Roel Degamo was supposedly against the Negros Island Region or NIR, while Congressman Arnie Teves and former Governor Henry "Pryde" Teves were in favor of that. Based on my research, the NIR movement started in the 1980s during the presidency of BBM's late father. The two provinces are perhaps the only ones who are located on one island but belonging to two different regions. They have a point. When people from Occidental want to transact official business in the regional office, they need to go to Iloilo. People from Oriental have to travel all the way to Cebu City. Thus all the congressmen from the island, five from Occidental and three from Oriental filed House Bill 1477 seeking to create a separate region for the two provinces. The post Ninoy Aquino assassination protests and the EDSA revolt derailed the passage of the bill into law.

In the 1990s, under the Cory government, the clamor was revived by then Occidental governor Bitay Lacson and Oriental governor Emilo Macias. Their respective successors, Rafael Coscolluella of Occidental and George Arnaiz of Oriental carried on the advocacy and even identified Kabankalan and Mabinay as the joint regional centers. But the NEDA opposed the proposal for lack of funding. In 2013, Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon Jr and Oriental's Henry Teves revived the proposal. Governor Roel Degamo was originally against the idea but later softened his stand. On May 29, 2015, PNoy signed Executive Order 183 creating finally the NIR. But on August 9, 2017 Duterte signed Executive Order 38 dissolving it. On July 1, 2022, Occidental Representative Alfredo Marañon III filed House Bill 330 reviving the NIR Five counterpart bills were also filed in the senate. The people focused on Covid, nothing happened to the bill.

On March 6, 2023, House Bill 7355 was filed seeking to include Siquijor to the new region. If that happens, the population of the NIR will comprise 2,497,261 in Occidental, 1,354,905 in Oriental and 103,395 in Siquijor. That will be 12 cities and 19 municipalities in Occidental and 6 cities and 19 municipalities in Oriental and 6 municipalities of tiny Siquijor. Politics in these places have always been controlled by well-entrenched family dynasties belonging to the elite in the sugar industry. Once in a while, bright boys from the peasantry, like assassinated governor Roel Degamo, would surface by way of exceptions. But it is always a long and difficult struggle for the poor. The rich and the powerful always inherit their political ascendancy like a golden spoon from their powerful forefathers.

The sugar barons of Negros want to declare independence from Iloilo and Cebu. It's now up to the national politicians to decide whether to let this idea fly finally. Governor Roel Degamo, the lone oppositor, has already been eliminated. I don't think however that his murder could be linked to this political move. There is no evidence and there is no logic.


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