Planters and millers

The rise in the price of oil throws the spotlight again on efforts to kick start ethanol production. Ethanol comes from sugar, and when you mention sugar, you can’t help but think of the sugar barons of old, their enormous estates, and enormous spending habits.

As for me, I’m trying to digest “Barons, Brokers, and Buyers: The Institutions and Cultures of Philippine Sugar” (Michael S. Billig). I got the book last year but it was on my to-read shelf until the other day. Here’s a striking passage from the book (Chapter 1: The Rise of Urban Elites):

...Many in the sugar industry persist in the belief that they are among the most powerful political forces in the nation. But those with real power consider that claim laughable in today’s Philippine sugar economy. More political capital can be gained from disparaging the “sugar barons” than from advancing their interests.

And yet, in their efforts to portray the Philippines as a neo-colonized, exploited, and “feudal” cog on the periphery of the global world capitalist system, many Philippine scholars have missed or understated this important trend… scholars have conveyed the impression that the old rural oligarchs have preserved their preeminence in unabated form, or at least that all Philippine elites are pretty much alike in how they relate to the state. Journalistic accounts… are even more stark in their portrayals. For them the Philippines is a “changeless land” and a “land of broken promises,” dominated by fabulously rich rural elites able to direct political life unfettered by competition from other elites with other values and unconcerned with the greater national good…

I am not claiming that those perspectives are entirely mistaken, only that today’s Philippine reality is far more complex. Where rural elite families have managed to maintain their status and power, they have done so by adapting to radically different circumstances, by making new alliances, and by using their wealth and influence to pursue different strategies of gain. Those oligarchic families who have clung to the older methods of wielding influence have largely ceded ground to the nouveau riche. Most important, urban businessmen and financial wizards have increasingly become the dominant reference groups for ambitious young people. One would be hard-pressed today -even in Negros- to find a young member of a planter family who would admit to aspiring to a life of rural leisure and inherited “success”…

Although patrimonial capitalism endures in the Philippines, I argue that the shift from landlord dominance to the dominance of urban businessmen is critically important as a harbinger of future change in politics, economy, and culture. While it may appear at first that all Philippine elites are alike, that elites from different sectors pursue different strategies of domination and advocate different sorts of policies has consequential implications.

Many on the Philippine left see signs that the next “ruling class” will consist of former peasants or proletariat. But it seems far more plausible, given current trends, that what is evolving is the more typical historical progression: replacement of an old elite class by a newer one with different interests and sources of power, even though many of the individuals and families are the same. Despite the many works decrying the static composition of Philippine elites, and the bipolarity of Philippine society, I argue that this shift is affording an unprecedented amount of upward mobility and the rapid growth of a Filipino “middle class.”

This passage reminded me of an experience I had last year with, ironically, one of the heirs of an established sugar fortune in Negros Oriental. He was proudly showing me around rather forward-thinking developments in their former sugar lands: an industrial and technological park, efforts aimed at growing other crops other than sugar, and all sorts of exciting infrastructure (a modern port, an airport in the works). One of the projects was a gated community in which some new houses had already begun to sprout. I asked him who were putting up the new homes. “Oh,” he said matter-of-factly, “there’s the home of a seaman, and here, the house of a Filipina married to a Swiss, and there, a home built by a Nanny in London…” All fairly large, solid structures pointing to definite bourgeois aspirations. I like to use that development as an example of what Billig puts forward in his book. The social consequences of a person who, as a sailor, gets to build a home in a gated community, in a province in which, up to twenty years ago, people like that sailor groveled before people like the developer’s parents, can only be profound. And it is taking place all over the country. Its true effects are only beginning to be felt, but are being felt enough to frighten those before whom our emerging middle class once groveled. Not least because the fright is caused by unfamiliarity.

The old middle class that has practically gone extinct was molded by the old upper class to share its values, culture, and learning. The new middle class is rawer, brasher, unculturated in the old ways and thus, possibly less predictable.

Anyway, a question I’m curious about: will pushing ethanol production serve as a boon to big estates? Will it serve to give haciendas a new lease on life? And is this an intended, or an unintended consequence, of pending legislation? Will ethanol production result in a temporary resuscitation of the old planter culture to which, for example, the President’s husband belongs, or will it hasten its demise?

My mind has wheels has a heartening entry on the joys of tutoring. As someone who had to undergo tutoring many times in the past, I’m all for tutoring and programs that encourage tutorials.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

30 thoughts on “Planters and millers

  1. ethanol a boon for big estates? PNOC tried that during the last oil crisis during marcos time and what say you? The result would not even qualify for anything except maybe to rub or splash it on the vehicle. It takes more energy to convert the sugar cane into ethanol than the energy derived from ethanol. Try coconut it has more potential for carbon.

  2. For ethanol use in cars, we can learn from Brazil. I just heard in CNN that 75% of their vehicles can use both ethanol or gasoline.

  3. Btw,

    • All hail Ma. Theresa Panganiban of Cavite State U. You do the Filipino race proud.

    • Mike Defensor; bastos ba kamo si Ms. Panganiban? Eh ano naman ang tawag mo sa lying, cheating, at stealing? Virtuous ba ito? Your emperor has no clothes. Ms. Panagniban merely pointed this out.

    • Art Panganiban and the SC. You did us half proud. But we’re still waiting for the next installment re the constitutionality of Proc1017.

    • Raul Gonzalez; We impugn your capacity to do the Filipino justice.

    • Always justifying your cowardice by feigning courage. You appeased no one by exonerating those three US soldiers when you should be totally throwing the book at them. Maybe you should like to have these white trash visit upon your mother/wife/daughters so that you know how the rest of us feel.
    You are a toady coward of the most loathsome kind. A traitor to Filipinos.

  4. I am not a sugar baron and have no direct interest in the revival of the sugar industry.

    But I do believe the Brazilian model of ethanol use is worth studying if not emulating. (They’ve been using a 15% ethanol-cum-gasoline blend out there since the 1970’s.)

    This is not just from a possible revival of the moribund sugar industry stand-point -although that in itself is a good reason to do so. Consider further the upside potential for a basically agricultural economy like ours in light of the fact that there are strong indications that ethanol production from cellulosic waste will soon be an economically practicable reality.

    Bush is in a mad rush to wean the US from it’s over dependence on mid-east oil. So he’s gamely pushing all kinds of research to ensure that cellulosic ethanol becomes a reality in the near term.

    ~~Genetically engineered E. coli bacteria is capable of converting all sugar types found in plant cell walls into fuel ethanol. This organism produces a high yield of ethanol from biomass such as sugarcane residues, rice hulls, forestry and wood wastes and other organic materials.~~(website removed)

    That’s just for gas-engine vehicles.
    The economy also stands to benefit greatly from pursuing biodiesel production given our abundance of coconut tree resources. The production of biodiesel is a simple process that essentially removes the glycerin component (which could potentially gunk up the engine) from the raw stock coconut oil. In Europe, biodiesel derived from corn and soya is cheaper than diesel derived from crude oil and has been in use for the past 20 years. Again, a potential bonanza for the coconut farmer.

    We all know that what the Philippines needs to do is get its act together to craft a good set of policies that will pave the way for the investments in infrastructure needed to make the practical everyday use of both ethanol and biodiesel a reality.

    But given the prevalence and rapacity of corruption in this government, expect those dullards in the Palace to bungle every good thing that could be of benefit to this country from ethanol and biodiesel.

    Next thing we know, Gluemax and her stooges will have long carved out chunks of these fledgling ethanol and biodiesel industries amongst themselves –contributing, yet again, to the continued economic desolation and wretchedness of the countryside.

    How certain are we that this will happen?
    Well, lest we forget.. “The economic crimes that top the charges raised against Arroyo consist among others of: 1) the North Rail project scam, 2) the $121.8-million World Bank loan supposed to have gone to small coconut farmers but was lost to corruption.” -PCIJSeptember 7, 2005

  5. I find your assessment of the “new middle class”, as you put it, interesting:

    “The old middle class that has practically gone extinct was molded by the old upper class to share its values, culture, and learning. The new middle class is rawer, brasher, unculturated in the old ways and thus, possibly less predictable.”

    In fact, this is exactly what’s needed in the Philippines to break the centuries old strangle hold of power by the oligarchs, a class of which you are a descendant of, Mr. Qeuzon, III. If a true, non-violent revolution is ever going to occur in the Philippines it will have to come from the descendants of these “rawer, brasher, and uncultured” middle class!

  6. re #1, emelie I agree with you. plus conut is more abundant than sugar in the philippines.

  7. MLQ3,

    Re: “Its true effects are only beginning to be felt, but are being felt enough to frighten those before whom our emerging middle class once groveled. Not least because the fright is caused by unfamiliarity.”

    Give it another 20 years and even the brasher, the rawer, the unculturated in the old ways will search for the comforting touch of the old ways and will seek them through la bonne vielle bourgeoisie (good old bourgeoisie).

    At the same time, I do believe that Betol has a point: it is the emerging middle class that will be the hope of the nation. This is a true and tried method in old democracies. The emerging middle class was what made many nations in Europe democratic today – it brought new methods and new formulaes to vivify a dying class and in the process, revived and strengthened a culture in decay.

  8. Congressman Zubiri has tried and failed to let the biofuels bill pass the third reading,he once said he will follow it up once the budget is passed. What do you know he said that almost a year ago and the budget has not been passed because of obvious reasons.

    For those saying that we make use of coconuts has forgotten that the coconut industry is in a stalemate because of thae coco levy disaster which we somewhat have an idea of what that disaster is.

    Sayang, we could have made use of us having the most coconuts in the region if not the world. Maybe it is the self destruct mode mode we are in for the past 60 years; Carl Inting was talking about.

    And coconuts can only be used for cocodiesel not as a gsoline additive, so ethanol is also a must.

    Even if the bio fuel bill passes the bicameral conference,as long as we don’t know what do with land reform,nothing will happen.

    That is what I am talking about the many laws we have that we do not know how to use because of lack of budget or lack of political will, which always come hand in hand.

    hanggang proposal lang tayo at letting those bills signed into law pag tapos iiwan lang sa ere…it has been going on not only for the past 60 years.
    Nothing will happen unless Dick Lugar makes his world wide lobbying because the american farmers can’t produce enough ethanol and the brazilian production have been cornered by the Chinese market.

  9. Speaking of the US and oil.

    The effects of the US turning down Dubai ports to take over the operations of 6 ports from P and O ports has not been felt yet.
    Imagine because of fear of terrorism they would not allow Dubai to operate the ports. Even with Dubai donating the heaviest during the hurricanes was overlooked by the US congressmen.
    The only reason Dubai does not mind is because to date the Port of manila has more potential than all those 6 ports in the US.The port of manila is another P and O port which they are laying their sights on.

    BTW how can P and O run the POM what happened to the 60 /40 filipino foreign ownership ratio.
    We do not even need charter change to make a mess and manipulate our laws. Not even the recent mining accident of La fayette made the 60 40 fil foreign ownership an issue.

    we started from planters and millers,tapos napunta tayo sa Ports,tapos me mining pa.

    Everything is interconnected!

  10. Another idea has come to mind.Rego maybe right that we do not simplify things.

    Haven’t you noticed that most of the agricultural land in calatagan and nasugbu are turning into beach resorts.

    Ang dami dami nating real estate development ang target lang naman ng mga yan ay ang mga OFWS dahil ang mga me ari na ng nga land ay ang 5 percent rich of the nation bakit pa sila ang target market kanila na nga yung land to begin with.

    How could the middle class be the target of these real esate geniuses eh ginigisa lang nila sa sarili nilang mantika ang mga ito by selling predevelopment,tapos pag nalugi eventually sorry na lang.
    Eh sino target :mga foreigners??? eh unless me dummy sila they can’t own land.

    di natin malaman kung ano talaga ang plano natin…to be a tourist destination,to be a transhipment hub or to be the agrcultural gift to the region.

    We want to become everything for everyone,which we all know that never works.

    Why is it in Indonesia, which is bigger and more of an archipelago than our 7000 islands.People outside the reghion know only of one tourist spot and that is Bali.

    satin di pwede yun, we cannibalize each other in any business including tourism all because of that so called lemonadee stand phenomenon where everybody in the neighborhood sells lemonade and the ones who will buy are only their own hoseholds.

  11. Our country is blessed with many natural resources for alternative energy development. Agri produce such as sugar and coconut for bio-fuels are just part of biomass products we can develop. But there is a problem with sugar, coconut, corn, etc. for “green fuels.” They are eaten by our people. Whereas, there are jathropa (tuba-tuba) and other plants that are better suited for alternative fuel production.
    Of course, there are plenty of other resources such as solar, wind, mini and pico hydros, geothermal, etc.
    The whole problem boils down to our political will. Every time energy crises hit us, the government’s solution is “magtipid, magbisekleta, magsara ng malls!” They even created “enercops” to act as gestapo to those who will not comply with enercon. What a waste of energy!

  12. I promise that this will be the last comment for this topic:

    The next energy crisis is coming.

    The chinese president has been roaming the world because of the anticipated problem. He is now in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    China is a magnet to the oill crisis.It even made a deal with Russia to have a pipeline to have oil from russia go directly to them.

    I haven’t added India to the equation.
    Add India to that,we really are in for a rough ride!

    Those who say its the problem of globalization.
    We can not isoslate our selves from it.

    That is why I don’t think weekly transport strikes will amount to anything.

    So that is why we just can’t just simplify things by sweeping everything under the bed!

    escaping the problem which is always the approach of our government ,as councilor Lavina has pointed out in the various energy conservation campaigns.

    It all boils down to our political will?
    By saying our political will must mean everyone of us not just our leaders’.

  13. 1. On the subject of sugar barons, the sugar industry did have its time in the sun. But that was a long time ago. Just as Ferdinand Marcos and Danding Cojuangco milked and ruined the coconut industry, Marcos and Roberto Benedicto put the final nails into the sugar industry, or at least the predominance of the sugar bloc. Having said that, it cannot be denied that the sugar barons did leave an imprint on Philippine history, business and commerce. Manuel Roxas became President of the Philippines largely with the support of the sugar bloc. Many prominent industrial and commercial businesses were started by people who had their beginnings in sugar. The Lopezes of Meralco and ABS-CBN were initially landed sugarcane planters in Iloilio. The Cojuangcos of PLDT and San Miguel were into rice and sugar production in Tarlac. As a matter of fact, Danding Cojuangco once wanted to move in on the sugar industry but was persuaded by Marcos to move in on coconuts instead because that was already Benedicto’s turf. Real Estate fortunes, such as those of the Aranetas of Cubao, the Yulos of Canlubang and even the Zobels and Ayalas, through their Roxas lineage, trace their roots to the sugar industry.

    Those who were too myopic and set in their ways were forced to be bound to their lands. These have been severely damaged, financially and socially, by the disastrous sugar policies under Marcos and Benedicto and, later, by land reform. Lately, though, it is interesting to note that there are many who are now thriving due to a recent boom in sugar due to high oil prices. Sugar prices have never been this good for a long, long time. Those cashing in on the new sugar boom are not necessarily big landowners. Most are small to medium-sized planters. Many do not even own the land that they till. They simply lease the land from others and try to maximize production. In the sugar-producing areas, there is a new air of prosperity. And it is not confined to a few big-time hacenderos. If this sugar boom holds, we will see more bold and brash young Filipinos, besides the OFW’s enter the middle class in the next few years.

    2. Brazil is to be emulated on their ethanol policy. They stayed the course, even when the economics for ethanol weren’t there. It is true that, when oil was at $10/ barrel during most of the 1990’s, ethanol was viewed as a pipe-dream. With oil now unlikely to be going below $50/barrel, ethanol has, indeed, very bright prospects. Not only did Brazil stay the course on ethanol, they pursued an aggressive oil drilling policy and constructed nuclear and hydro-electric plants to produce more energy for industry. Today, Brazil not only produces ethanol for most of her cars, it is also self-sufficient in oil production. Not too bad for a country that was once viewed as an oversized banana republic, once ran by succession of military generals. Brazil’s energy success can be read in this article:

    Because all Philippine administrations since Marcos have consistently been bankrupt of policies, whether on energy, industry or tourism, we keep being left behind. It may not be too late, but we really have a lot of catching up to do.

    3. Coconuts are, indeed, plentiful in the Philippines. However, coconuts cannot produce on a per-hectare basis as much as palm oil. Coconuts, at best, only produce up to 2 tons of oil per hectare/annum. Palm oil produces up to 10 tons of oil per hectare/annum. Coconut oil is, however, chemically superior to palm oil. It should be focused more towards high-value products, such as coconut virgin oil, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics.

    Once again, we missed the boat on palm oil production. We still have large tracts of land suitable for palm oil production but have been sidetracked by absence of policy and political will, bickering over ancestral domain and chronic shortage of capital. Malaysia bet big on palm oil in the 1970’s and is now reaping tremendous gains. A small nation of about 20 million inhabitants is producing over 10 million tons of palm oil, while the Philippines barely produces 2 million tons of coconut oil. With its huge palm oil production, Malaysia can certainly produce biofuel from palm oil at much lower cost.

  14. karl and rego,

    i recommend coconut because we still have many coconuts the size of which is second only to Indonesia (we used to be no. 1) and there is no wastage here as we eat the content the cover is converted to fuel in the form of carbon (not coco diesel). A lot of boilers are utilizing carbon to generate energy and many of them are in the country side. The energy cost is CHEAPER than MERALCO

  15. Emilie:
    I don’t think it’s true that it takes more energy to produce ethanol from sugarcane than what you can get from ethanol itself. This claim applies more to the US context where they use corn as raw material and even there most of the experts disagree with it. A recent New York times article (dated April 10, 2006) states that the energy gain from corn is 1.3 while in Brasil the energy gain from sugarcane is about 8.3.

    Coconut has potential since biodiesel can be produced from it. However, we still need a substitute for gasoline and ethanol can serve that role. The problem with biodiesel from coconut oil is the high cost of the raw material. Biodiesel is far more expensive than petro diesel. Bio-ethanol however is much cheaper than gasoline. For biodiesel to substantially replace petro diesel, the price of coconut oil has to go down or cheaper oil has to be used.

  16. betol, i don’t disagree with your point, it’s a point i’ve been trying to make -but there is a big difference between “unculturated in the old ways”, which is what i said, and “uncultured,” which is how you quote me. there is a big difference: my view is an old culture is dying, and a new one a-borning, but i don’t say the new culture is uncultured, which is what the way you “quoted” me implies.

  17. if i have a coconut plantation i would rather convert every oil that i can get from my coconut into virgin oil which commands a higher price than gasoline. If indeed ethanol is a terrific alternative then the market has a way of validating that it should boom but as everybody knows its a bust. If indeed it is profitable then a lot of capitalists will jump into it even without government encouragement…but we hardly hear anybody venture into it..We can talk all day but the facts just dont support our desire. We can blame government all day but do we actually want to pay more taxes just to throw into another bottomless pit called ethanol project? Look into the traffic condition first and by GOD if only we are efficient in that area that would translate to a double digit reduction in oil consumption which would be equal to lower oil price just the same.

  18. “there’s the home of a seaman, and here, the house of a Filipina married to a Swiss, and there, a home built by a Nanny in London…”

    It’s quite telling that the people mentioned there are mostly OFWs. It seems that the “unprecedented amount of upward mobility and the rapid growth of a Filipino middle class” isn’t so much because of a “shift from landlord dominance to the dominance of urban businessmen” but rather more due to the OFW phenomenon (already 8 million today.)

    One can even argue that the “middle class” actually residing in the Philippines is really paper-thin, as many of them are already abroad, either as temporary (but recurring) overseas workers, or as permanent immigrants.

    And why the OFW phenomenon? Because they can’t find decent jobs here. Because the local economy is weak.

  19. On the Subject of energy conservation; the New Hybrid Technology Engines in some model cars would surely help reduce oil consupmption. I’m not sure if such model cars are already available in the country. It is equipped with both mechanical and electrical engines and switch seamlessly between engines according to driving demand. Since driving in the Philippines is a stop and go type mostly and also in rural and shorter distance the vehicle electric engines will be greatly appreciated because of its cleanliness and quite and non oil burning while charging during the engine turn to drive. I was in the country the last 3 weeks and I have not spotted a single Hybrid Car. It usually cost a couple of thousand dollars more for the extra engines and technology but it’s woth it in the long run.

  20. The brasher new middle class did learn something from the old middle class and that is to give as little whit to to your country as you can. It is self and family first, and country last.

  21. emilie said: “Look into the traffic condition first and by GOD if only we are efficient in that area that would translate to a double digit reduction in oil consumption which would be equal to lower oil price just the same.”

    That is a good point. And someday we must do something about the jeepney, which is totally inefficient as a form of mass transportation. It’s not only the cost of fuel, it’s the cost of spare parts, tires, batteries per passenger/mile.

    However, I disagree on outrightly dismissing ethanol as a bottomless pit or a hopeless project. The fact is that Brazil has done it. So that indicates viability. Counting the costs, with apologies to the Berkely engineering professor, involves not only an appreciation of dollars and cents. There are non-monetary factors to consider, foremost of which is the fact that ethanol is a renewable resource while petroleum is being depleted every day.

  22. A recent visit to Bacolod was quite enlightening. My host told me that the new elite in Negros are no longer the sugar planters. They have been replaced by the OFW’s and the Chinese. But these new elite reportedly do not yet exercise the same political power as the old sugar barons did . The new elite is not that politically-inclined yet. Their concern right now is merely buying up real estate and building their mansion-type homes on prime subdivisions. Maybe soon they will find their political voice.

    The Negrenses used to be known as the political kingmakers. Marcos and Imelda, however, saw to it that they would be stripped of such political clout. This he did by assigning his crony Roberto Benedicto to control the buying and selling of sugar which resulted in impoverishing the sugar planters. To add to the planters’ woes, their land was placed under land reform after EDSA 1. Portions of their lands were given to their farm workers, much like hacienda Luisita. But Danding Cojuanco seems to be the new political kingmaker of the island, now owning thousands of hectares of land.

    Many of the worker beneficiaries of the sugar lands did not know how to manage a sugar farm, nor did they have the capital. And so they leased it to others. The sugar industry has never been the same since pre-Marcos time.

    Planters have tried to diversify but there has not been much sustained success. It’s a pity because there is so much expanse of rich beautiful land ranging from the sea to its beautiful mountain ranges.

    Perhaps this ethanol project being proposed could revive the sugar industry and give more employment opportunities to the island once again. The Negrenses deserve a break. They are such charming hospitable people.

  23. In my comment # 23 I referred to the hybrid cars as way of conserving energy and also less polutant and today at the inquirer it was noted that the cars Honda Civic and Toyota Prius are both 500 thousand pesos more expensive than the regular model. I think this is WAY off. The model sold in the US and Canada is somewhere to the max of $5,000 over the regular price, which converted to peso won’t not be that half a million pesos over. I think these two car companies is taking advantage of those who can afford to buy the Hybrid cars. I suggest to the people planning to but these cars to go to google and search the difference in prices. Ms. Arroyo is shown on the front page promoting the Technology. I better check the price myself. And she got a Freebee. Lucky gal indeed..

  24. Yup-Basic price for 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid Automatic trans. $22,000 cdn. appox 25,000 taxes and all. converted to Pesos 1.1 that is top of the line hybrid compares to l.5 asking price in the Philippines. That’s a lot of difference. Buyer beware…

  25. More than 3-DECADES ago today, the Philippines had already perfected not only substitutes for petro-base gasoline and diesel liquid fuels, but on all petroleum based lubricants, greases and fluids made out of coconut oil and aliphatic herbal/botanical plant hydrocarbons. (Filipinos does not need “CHACHA”. Pinoys wants “POTCHA” – Politicians Change.

    This so-called modern world needs witnesses not just preachers.
    The solution to the looming energy crisis is found in Cebu, Philippines …

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