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Sugar bloc of Negros backs Roxas

The sugar bloc, once the most powerful economic and political lobby group in the country, is staging a revival in the wake of the push for the candidacy of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as successor to President Aquino.

Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, the resurgent sugar industry’s base, today is stirring with political ferment as the launching pad for Roxas’ 2016 presidential campaign, reminiscent of its boom days as the foremost political kingmaker force in the country, in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Judy Araneta-Roxas, mother of Secretary Roxas, the presumptive Liberal Party presidential candidate in 2016, made the rounds of Negros sugar planters over the weekend, seeking their support for her son, who is still waiting for official endorsement from the Liberal Party and from Mr. Aquino.

“Please do not forget my son, Mar Roxas,” the matriarch of the formerly Negros-based Araneta clan from Bacolod and Bago City, appealed to sugar land leaders at a dinner in Bacolod on Friday. “Can you imagine if a Negrense is in Malacañang, what can come to us in Negros?”

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This is a line that has resonance to the Ilonggos of Negros Occidental and Panay island in Western Visayas, who together make up one the richest voting blocs in the country.

‘True to himself’

She not only said her son was “very capable” of running the country but is also “true to himself.”

“He knows what he ought to do,” she said, reminding the Ilonggos, by implication, that her region produced the first President of the independent Philippine Republic—Manuel A. Roxas—in 1946.

Self-serving

Readers are well-advised to take these exhortations as self-serving electoral statements, but my purpose in reporting this foray in Bacolod is to provide the context of the social dynamics involved in the preelection process in our party system in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

A person known for her outspoken opinions on political issues, especially about her family, Judy spoke at the dinner on Friday hosted by Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugar Cane Planters, at his home in Bacolod, in honor of the matriarch whose father, Amado Araneta, used to own sugar centrals in the cities of Bago and Bacolod.

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The family closed these holdings and transferred its wealth from sugar to Cubao, Quezon City, where now stands Araneta Coliseum, and the White House, where Judy holds fort, making political decisions involving national politics such as the political future of Mar Roxas, in the patronizing style of the Negros sugar barons during the heydays of the sugar bloc, when sugar was one of ten top export crops of the economy.

Rejuvenated

At least 50 people attended the dinner that counted some of the richest people in Negros Occidental, among them sugar planters, who are as politicized as their counterparts in the sugar boom of the 1960s, as this generation of planters now enjoying the rejuvenation of the domestic and world markets for Philippine sugar.

Although Philippine sugar exports no longer enjoy the tariff and export quota protection of the good old days, contemporary sugar planters still bask in the culture of their predecessors whose support was wooed by politicians or powers that be in the central government.

At the Bacolod dinner, after Judy’s speech, Manuel Lamata, president of United Sugar Producers’ Federation of the Philippines, said the sugar industry was thankful to Mar Roxas who was instrumental in getting the President to ask the Bureau of Internal Revenue to grant the industry’s plea to exempt raw sugar from the advance value-added tax.

According to Lamata, the Sugar Alliance has been waging a long battle to get the BIR to stop its “unlawful taxation” of raw sugar and is thankful that Roxas intervened, for which it acknowledged him “as savior of this industry.”

Whether these concessions by the government to interventions sought by the planters would boost the campaign of Roxas remains to be seen.

Roxas hoped that the proposed merger of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental into a one-island region would happen before Mr. Aquino steps down from office in 2016. Roxas announced this during the Panaad Negros Festival on Friday.

The proposal is being pushed by local officials from both provinces, including Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Negros Oriental Vice Gov. Mark Macias. These officials are calling for the merger to solve a problem in the fund allocation system.

Merger

Mr. Aquino has asked Roxas and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to make a recommendation merging the two provinces into what would be called the Negros Island Region. Negros Oriental is part of Region VII, or Central Visayas, while Negros Occidental is part of Region VI, or Western Visayas.

At the beginning, the National Economic and Development Authority shut down the proposal because “the government had no money to effect the merger.”

But in a speech in Bacolod, the President said the merger would facilitate the delivery of social services to the provinces.

The issue of merger came up in the 1980s when some leaders from both provinces proposed a one-island or one-region unit, leading to the filing of House Bill No. 1477 merging the two provinces into the One-island region.

The bill argued that that the two provinces “nestle in one common island; have common fowls and beasts in the forest, share the same soil in our plains and mountains; benefit and suffer together from the rivers that snake through our land; and our ancestors roamed the same length and breadth without complications of political, social, economic, religious and lingual obstacles.”

The proposed measure also argued that the merger would bring in more funds, enhance employment and boost socioeconomic development.

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TAGS: Bacolod, Elections, Judy Araneta-Roxas, Mar Roxas, Negros Island Region, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, politics, sugar bloc
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