Citizen Action Guide to Negros Occidental 

negros occidental

 

Area Profile

Negros Occidental is on the western half of Negros, the boot-shaped island in the Visayas. It is also known as “Sugarlandia” the sugar-producing capital of the Philippines. It is bordered in the north by the rich fishing grounds of the Visayan Sea, Panay Gulf on the west that separates it from Panay Island while to the east is Tañon Strait and Sulu Sea on the south.

Towering over the Negros landscape is Mount Kanlaon, one of the most active volcanoes in the country with the highest peak in central Philippines. It rises 2,465 meters above sea level and covers more than 24,000 hectares of rainforests, a reminder of the once lush forests and timberland cleared by logging companies including the largest in the world, the Insular Lumber Corporation.

Today, Negros Occidental has only four percent remaining cover out of its total land area of more than 792,000 hectares.

It was once called a “social volcano waiting to explode anytime” by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Antonio Fortich, the former bishop of the Roman Catholic’s Diocese of Bacolod owing to the unequal relations between the workers and sugarplanters, the landed few, who continue to dominate local economy and politics.

sugarlandiaThe province has relied on agriculture, especially the sugar industry, as the base of its economy. Half of the more than 420,000 hectares planted to sugarcane are in Negros. Most of the more than 20 mills and refineries in the country are also located here.

The estimated 2.5 million people in the province are spread over its more than 600 villages in its 13 cities and 19 towns, each of which have their own fiestas or annual celebrations, including one that is celebrated on All Souls’ Day. There is also the “mother of all festivals,” the Panaad sa Negros.

Negros Occidental is a first-class province. Its capital, Bacolod City, is its center of economic and political life and is home to its officials and the landlords or hacienderos whose addresses are in plush subdivisions and no longer in the haciendas where their sugarworkers are.

Like most highly-urbanized cities in the country, Bacolod is being promoted as a convention center but it also has the second-largest concentration of informal settlers at more than 39,000 households, second to Quezon City with more than 90,000.

Negros Occidental is still dependent on agriculture. Based on data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics of the agriculture department, of the total land area of 792,607 hectares, 517,417 hectares are arable land of which approximately 328,188 hectares or 64 percent are devoted to agriculture with sugar as the main crop.

Aside from logging companies that once cleared thousands of hectares in the southern and northern parts of the province, Negros Occidental is also home to some mining companies including the Maricalum Mining Corporation that was once the largest copper mines in Asia. Maricalum has reopened recently after shutting down in the 1990s due to financial and labor problems but it has not yet paid its taxes with the provincial government and several local government units.

The province ranked first in poverty incidence according to the 2012 estimates of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). While poverty incidence among families slightly decreased across the region from 26.3 percent in 2009 to 22.8 percent in 2012, it has increased consistently over the past six years in Negros Occidental and Iloilo provinces, according to the NSCB report. Only two out of six provinces in the region – Antique and Capiz – succeeded in alleviating poverty, the report added.

Negros Occidental also has the biggest share in the total number of poor families in Region 6, with 45.2 percent of families classified as poor in 2012. Additional NSCB data also showed that the magnitude of poor families rose steadily from an estimated 125,256 in 2006, 141,585 in 2009 and 164,827 in 2012.

LGU Profile
Among the dominant political families are the Marañons who have maintained a grip on the governorship since 2001. The current governor, Alfredo Marañon, Jr. is on his second term and took over his brother, Joseph, who ran and won under the United Negros Alliance, the local coalition set up by former Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. during the term of then President Joseph Estrada.

Cojuangco handpicked Joseph Marañon to be the standard bearer of UNA that has dominated politics in the province for more than 10 years. Up to the recent elections, UNA has swept almost all positions from the congressional to the local levels. In the 2013 polls, however, it broke up after Governor Marañon broke off from Cojuangco after the former Marcos crony decided to support Vice-Governor Genaro Alvarez, Jr. for the gubernatorial race.

who rules negros occCojuangco said he had promised Alvarez to become UNA’s candidate after Marañon himself pledged to him that he would not seek re-election. Marañon, on the other hand, in justifying his candidacy, said there was a clamor among the mayors in the province for him to run for a second term.

In the southern part of the province, among the families that have maintained their grip are the Alvarezes. While Genaro Alvarez, Jr. may have lost his bid for the province’s top post, his daughter, Mercedes, won a second term as representative of the province’s Sixth District composed of the cities of Sipalay and Kabankalan and the towns of Cauayan, Hinobaan, Ilog, and Candoni – areas that were once the hotbed of insurgency.

His two sons, Genaro Rafael and John Paul, are mayor and vice-mayor, respectively, of Ilog town. The former vice governor and John Paul were among those accused for murder last year over the death of regional trial court judge Henry Arles who was ambushed in Ilog town. The Department of Justice has dismissed the criminal complaint.

The Bascons in Himamaylan City are still in power. Agustin Bascon is serving his second term as mayor while his mother Carminia Gatuslao-Bascon is vice mayor. Agustin’s uncle Antonio Gatuslao challenged him for the mayoral post last year. Antonio is a former assemblyman and former assistant secretary for political coalitions during the Arroyo administration. The Gatuslaos were the political allies in the south of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Aside from the Bascons and the Alvarezes, other families that have maintained their hold on their constituents are the Lacsons in northern Negros, and the Puentevellas and the Leonardias in Bacolod City.

Civil Society and Media

Civil society organizations have been active in the province since the Marcos dictatorship. Among them are organizations initially set up by the Church but eventually grew to be mass-based sectoral formations. Among these are the National Federation of Sugar Workers and the National Federation of Labor Unions.

In the 1980s, these organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Aglipayan Church were among those who took part in the protests against then president Ferdinand Marcos. Surprisingly, even sugarcane planters joined in and became leaders of activist organizations that the Negros elite would not normally touch with 10-foot pole.

CSOs in the province can be generally classified into two: (1) with deep roots with the depressed and marginalized sector and have often mass membership; and (2) with no mass members on the ground.

Some of these organizations become visible only during the campaign for the elections as their leaders would vie for local positions. Some would piggyback on mass mobilizations led by the Church.

These CSOs, especially those in the south and far south, are now active in the campaign against environmental destruction that is also linked to the issue of corruption and ineptness of local officials.

There used to be a People’s Graftwatch which investigates alleged anomalies or corruption and recommends to the Ombudsman the filing of charges. The group has been inactive, however, after one of its founders, physician Patricio Tan, passed away.

The community press in the province, meanwhile, can be described as one of the most active in the country during the Martial Law years. It has also faced challenges during the time of then President Corazon Aquino when the province was wracked by resistance of landowners to the agrarian reform program that was being implemented by the post-Marcos government.

During the Marcos years, several local journalists became part of the mosquito press, writing and reporting on stories that the mainstream media – largely controlled by the dictatorship -- under-covered or under-reported. Under the Aquino administration, when the Maoist insurgency was at its peak, these members of the community press became targets of harassment by landlords and State security forces because of their continued reporting on human rights violations and the lack of good governance.

radio is the most accesible mediumRadio remains to be the most accessible medium. Negros Occidental currently has 11 active AM or news and talk stations and more than 20 FM stations – some of which are adapting the AM on FM programming although most of them are still music stations.


LGU-Citizen Engagement

There is no structured or systematic LGU-community engagement that can be significantly observed in the 32 towns and cities.

If ever there is, or at least provides a semblance of it, it would be the weekly block times airing over AM radio stations in the province. It is not clear if LGUs or officials, especially the mayors, pay for these programs.


Opportunities and Threats

Opportunities

1. Strong civil society presence

Civil society and non-government organizations of different political and ideological persuasions have been in existence here since Marcos’ time, especially during the sugar crisis in the 1980s that saw the pouring in of foreign funds. The advocacies of these organizations range from agrarian reform, human rights and women’s issues to anti-trafficking and relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Some groups are broad-based and have mass membership, not only limited to the middle-class or the intelligentsia but include basic sectors like farmworkers, peasants and fisher folk. Other organizations are urban-based and concentrate on advocacy efforts though having limited capacity when it comes to mass mobilizations.

pull quote2. Church involvement in peoples’ issues
The Roman Catholic Church has been actively involved in advocating for social change since the time of Marcos. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente is also active in its advocacy work, with some of its priests also being members of multi-faith groups like the Promotion of Church People’s Response.

The Social Action Center of the Diocese of Bacolod has been active recently in advocating for consumers’ rights especially in electricity and water. The head of the SAC has also been active in monitoring public biddings of the Bacolod City government, sitting as an observer in the bidding process.

3. A community of concerned journalists
Community journalists are well aware of the need for governance. They have, since the Marcos dictatorship, proven their commitment to serving the people’s need for information that is one of the basis for good governance.

Threats

1. Docile culture
While Negros Occidental is one of the provinces where mass movements have been active in the past, especially during the time of Marcos, the problems being faced by the sugar industry seem to have affected the vigilance of citizens.

It has been ingrained in people’s minds through centuries that the landlord is the one responsible for taking care of them from cradle to grave and must be followed at all times. Hacienderos have maintained their grip through this culture and through their workers who become their political currency during elections.