Palmas Del Mar Conference and Resort Hotel

Garden Weddings | Beach Weddings | Romantic Island Resorts | Wedding Venues | Conference Venues | Bacolod Hotels | Bacolod Resorts | Palmas del Mar

Beautiful Island

The Negrense Planter: Sinner or Saint, Hero or Rogue

Posted by andrea lizares on September 27, 2010 at 5:35 AM

Collect a list of adjectives to describe Negrense Planters as they are often featured and "decadent" would have top-billing. Decadent - marked by or providing unrestrained gratification; self-indulgent; characterized by decay or decline, as in being self-indulgent or morally corrupt. The April 2009 issue of the Rogue magazine is titled "Blood, Sugar, Sex, and Magic." The issue that claims to reveal the untold story of Negros tells of swashbuckling, gun-toting cowboys with their own private islands, flamboyant socialites who made Europe their playground, "family trees that lurched with savage wildness" because they were all "interconnected by sex and sugar and they were all disturbingly rich," a province that was the essence of the wild, wild west.


I feel a little guilty about the fact that many of the "fruits, wild flowers, and bad apples" who cross the magazine's pages are cousins or first name friends and not one, but several of the mansions pictured are Lizares mansions. The guilt of being part of so much ostentation and self-indulgence notwithstanding, I bought a copy of the magazine, like the other characters whose quirks are described in juicy detail, enjoying the outlandish portraits that we paint of ourselves.

Simplicio Lizares Mansion, Luci Lizares (granddaughter  of Simplicio), athletes in front of the Talisay-Silay Sugar Mill when it was Lizares owned. Screen shot of the April 2009 Issue of Rogue, photos by Dac Rivera, sugar mill photo from Lizares family files

Top: Governor Antonio A. Lizares in his Talisay residence together with mayors of the province (photo from Lizares family files);Bottom: Adjie Lizares, greatgrandson of Enrica Alunan Lizares besideone of the Rose Windows in the Balay ni Tana Dicang (Photo by MarkNicdao). Screenshot of the April 09 Rogue Issue

When the Sugar issue of the Rogue came out in April of 2009, sugar prices ex-mill were below P900 per 50 kilo bag, a losing proposition especially if one has to pay rent. So badly did the industry flounder from 2006-2009 that in Negros, two sugar mills were sold for scrap and the Rogue Magazine quotes leading Negrenses as saying that sugar was dead, that Negrenses had lost Negros.

Given this background, the apparent joie de vivre which the pages of "Blood, Sugar, Sex, and Magic" exude is more a wistful longing for the days of legend rather than the reality of April 2009. In fact, the old planters who owned thousands of hectares are no more, in their places, new names of those who benefited from political connections and corruption. Vast plantations have been lost because of the Negrense love for gambling and our well known propensity for spending and borrowing beyond our means. And even among the elegantly conservative and low-key (like the Lizareses), if land reform has not taken its toll, plantations have had to be divided by heirs of heirs of heirs, a thousand hectares divided by 13 or 17 and then by 9 and then by 10 and so on, leaving the great-great grandchildren with gold plated names that are worthless when they work as companions in the United States.

I cherish the craziness of it all at the same time that I must write about another side of the rich Negrense land-owner, the untold story that the Rogue Magazine authors mentioned but only in passing. Hacienderos may have been lords of their castles and undisputed rulers of their fiefdoms but unlike Pampanga (Luzon) where sugar was produced through an oppressive feudalistic system, in Negros, the canefields have always been worked by laborers who earn wages in a very regular employer-employee relationship.

Much has been made of emaciated sacadas who bear the burden of the planters' wealth, but sacadas are seasonal workers who come for the harvest because life is even more desperate in the provinces from whence they come. Negrense canefields were and continue to be worked by Duma-ans, the regular farmhands whose family histories are so firmly bound to the land (duma-an refers to a person who have been in a place for a long time) that when properties are divided, owners also have to make provisions for the division of the duma-ans (This seems to be treating people as chattel, but when big businesses are divided, don't employees also have to go with one or the other part?).

The Lizares Rodriguez Mansion now owned by Mercedes McKenzieand Margarita Jimenez, two daughters of Antonio and Carmen Lizares.Screenshot of the April 09 Rogue magazine photo by Mark Nicdao

Duma-ans cultivating the fields in Hacienda Santa Teresita inTalisay, Photo by

Pons Lizares

Balay niTana Dicang with the Viernes Santo Procession. The Lizareses farmhouse in Minuluan was said to be of similar design. Photo by Pons Lizares

While there may be Negrense planters whose dogs and prize stallions receive better treatment than their laborers, this callousness toward duma-ans may be more exception than rule. The imposing houses that the old planters built for themselves in their haciendas speak of land owners who were not so much feudal lords but pätrons, noble or wealthy persons who granted favor and protection to persons in exchange for certain services.

Duma-ans had farmlots and farmhouses that were built and maintained as an expense of sugar production. Land and money were donated so that schools and churches could be constructed for the development of minds and the purification of souls. Until the end of the 1980s, it was common for children of laborers in many farms to go to college, their tuition paid in full or heavily subsidized by sugar proceeds. Planters used their connections to help children of duma-ans obtain jobs and opportunities that would otherwise not have been possible. And while others worried about the uncertainty of life, in haciendas, cash advances were readily available for every exigency and even spouses and children were entitled to free hospitalization and medicines at half price if not for free. In a sense, all the duma-ans in the farm were members of the planter's household, dependents like children of his own blood.

This is why, even when a laborer's cash advances are so much more than he can ever pay, should a member of his family be hospitalized or should there be an emergency in the family, the planter will not have the heart to turn the laborer away empty handed. And even if he does, the planter's wife will help, even from her own funds. So it is not surprising that while outsiders may have known the hacienderos as "Senor" or "Don," titles reserved for our version of aristocracy, the duma-ans called my grandfather Antonio, "Norito," a fond diminutive of Senor and they called my father "Toto Baby," "Toto" being a pet-name that doting parents call their sons.

Lola Dicang in her living room with President Manuel L. Quezonand President Sergio Osmena. The Lizareses have dominated the politicallandscape in Talisay for several generations. Photo from Lizares family files.

Advocates of transformative politics look askance at haciendas that are almost impossible to penetrate, so strong is the planter's sway. In some cases, there may be coercion, "vote or gabut" (vote or be pulled out of the land), people say. But with labor organizations and leftist groups that are especially active in Negros, one must concede that it is not fear or ignorance that keep laborers in line.

For generations, haciendas have provided better social security than government or individual politicians are capable of giving. For every crisis, every emergency from womb to tomb, it is to his Amo, his employer, that the duma-an runs for help. Even with the younger planters and their much reduced hectarages and lower profits, the pätron's responsibility to the duma-an and his family remains. And since the duma-an's welfare, his family's fortune, rises and falls with his planter's, how can a duma-an even think of voting for a politician who is not his Amo's choice?

The old haciendero families had a sense of noblesse oblige, literally, “nobility obliges.” Privilege entails responsibility. Planters gave generously of their lands for the construction of municipal halls, markets, schools, hospitals, and other government structures, as well as for churches, seminaries, and cemeteries. According to the Rogue, planters "espoused some of the most advanced political and social reforms of their time - like injecting the social justice provision in the 1935 Constitution when the rest of the world. . . thought that was Communism." When the economy of Negros was crippled by the sugar crisis of the 80s, planter women put together their artistic skills and entrepreneurial flair to organize the House of Negros Foundation, contributing extensively toward alleviating the plight of more than 150,000 displaced workers at a time when 60 percent of Negrense children were malnourished. Planter associations and individuals mobilized from north to south to organize farm communities for feeding programs, human development and leadership trainings, and cooperatives. By the time the Local Government Code was passed in 1991, the partnership between government, Civil Society and the NGO sector was so well established and so dynamic that Negros Occidental was a shining example of how the public and private sectors can work together for the good of the community.

Heartless despots or God-fearing "pätrons?" Decadent or highly conscienticized spirits who believe in noblesse oblige and care about social justice? What about everything that has been written about planters paying very much less than the minimum wage, denying legal benefits to their laborers, using child labor in the fields? How about hacienderos who kick and curse laborers and common folk, planters who are so rude that they treat everyone who is not wealthy as a serf with no right to respect or consideration?

Here I must admit that as with any other group of people, there are the best of us and the worst of us. But where legal benefits and compliance with law is concerned, the reader must know that while the previous paragraphs and the Rogue articles mentioned earlier are about the old planter families that owned at least several hundred hectares, 2005-2006 figures of the Sugar Regulatory Commission show that of the 13,590 sugar farms in Negros Occidental, 10,297 farms have plantable areas of ten hectares or less and there are only 246 farms that are bigger than a hundred hectares. Farms of twenty five hectares or less can not in any sense add to the great divide between rich and poor but it is most likely in this large segment of the population of "planters" that most of the violations of the minimum wage law, the child labor law, the SSS and Philhealth law, and other laws occur. 

I have a dear friend who is a member of an organization of the radical left. I have known her and loved her as a teacher and friend since I was 14 and I have helped her through many financial straits. Because of our shared history I think she is being ridiculous when she tells me that as a Lizares, I am a class enemy. But she is serious, making me wonder if the wealthy planter families are indeed guilty of more abuse and more exploitation than I know. Perhaps there really are many heartless despots who treat their laborers as being of a different grade of humanity.

My heart bleeds for all those whose families suffered because their Amo did not know what it means to be the pätron. Being a Lizares has always been a blessing to me and as far as I know, the Lizareses and many, many other old planter families do what they can to return this blessing to our people and our communities. And yet for my friend, I remain her class enemy so I cannot say for certain that I am right. At least I have had the chance to tell a story that goes deeper than the craziness, the incest, and the decadence that make big planter families so easy for class enemies to hate. Having presented the planters' side, I rest my case and leave the issues for the reader to judge.


The author, Andrea Lizares Si, is the granddaughter of Enrica Alunan Lizares and a part owner of Palmas del Mar, which is now owned by the children of Heriberto and Vicente Lizares, two of Antonio Lizares' 5 sons. She is a sugar planter, lawyer, feminist, theologian, former City Administrator of Bacolod City, and candidate for mayor of Bacolod during the May 2010 elections.


Categories: Negrense Heritage

Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.

Already a member? Sign In