Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lessons From the Sugar God

This is a letter/ essay- whatever you call it- written by a Sugar God from way back in 2005. The Sugar God- as I would call him- is a good friend and has contributed so much change in my life. He in some ways influenced me (in between many fierce arguments) to see life in a different perspective and to live from various directions .Now only after four years I realize how right his views were.

“There is nothing I want for you to become, “ he had said, “than to surpass everything I have achieved. Go out there- the world is rolling itself at your feet.”

The pictures of Sidney illustrate the the Sugar God's story. For all that we see on the so-called “slavery” and “landlords” in sugarcane plantations, some individuals- who are actually there more than us mere spectators- see things in a somewhat different angle.

This piece has been circulated in argument against somebody(a blogger I think) who discriminated the masses and the elite. I think the Sugar God intends to cement two conflicting points of view.

Now you'd know that there's just so much "unsweet- ness" behind those sugar crystals we put in our food. And we wonder why we never get to taste them at all.


I come from a “ Just-above-average, income family ” My father was into planting sugar. He inherited some land from his father. My mother’s family on the other hand, was into banking.

During the first half of my existence, I lived a sheltered life. Yes, I can say that I lived a relatively comfortable life while growing up. I never had to worry whether our house was strong enough every time a storm was due to blow by, I never worried about basic necessities, nor was I made to worry about doing basic chores such as cleaning my room or washing my clothes. Only upon reaching college here in Manila, did I learn how to ride our public transportation, did I learn what a Registrar is, and what registering for a school term is all about. Before then, everything was pretty much done for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not entirely oblivious to the hardships around me. I spent a significant amount of time-albeit playing, nevertheless, time with the children of our farm workers. This meant going to their houses, some of which you won’t even classify as one, and listen to the fights of the parents, the gripes, and generally witness their day to day business of surviving. I also did some work in the farm (Post college) for about 2 years under the employ of my parents.

Sometime in my later years, things abruptly changed. The sugar industry because of years of corruption and poor financial practices on the part of most planters began experiencing major problems. Lady luck frowned at the same time on our family. Our house in Bacolod burned down where in we lost every thing. Then, several business ventures my family was involved in, collapsed. At the same time, three of us siblings were abroad and were in part, (Since we could not work legally) still dependent on the subsistence sent from back home. Our financial exposures were such that soon we were literally on survival mode. We had literally lost everything in a span of several years.

I came back from the United States 1997 after 9 years. I will be the first to admit that I accomplished little if nothing at all. Though, I was employed on my 2nd year till I came back. Having to experience life there though, changed me a little bit. I cannot point out exactly what this change was. Maybe how individuals were respected in a certain way? Whatever it was, this change brought me in a collision course with my parents. Looking back, I too, failed to recognize the tremendous financial pressures bearing down on them at that time.

One day, things went out of control. We went way past our boiling points and we escalated to world war 3. A lot of things were said and done, and that very day, I moved out of the house. To some, I was kicked out (Depending on whose version) and was promptly declared “Persona non grata” with a promise to campaign and warn all - relatives and non-relatives against helping me…This promise was carried out quite efficiently, since I broke culture and spoke exactly what was on my mind. Not a single relative thought I had any right.

I was forced to become a nomad for some time, transferring from one place to another. I lived in the slum areas, in farms, asking for help (Begging was more like it) whenever and wherever I could. I worked odd jobs here and there until finally, several relatives felt they had to intervene and they did. I went home after 3 years. We kissed and made up and we all became friends again and the rest is history.

I had to give you a little background of myself to show you where I was coming from. There were things you said, where I strongly feel, I should argue against. Anyway, let me give it a shot.

First, let us talk about the “Masa” of whom you “seem” to defend with a passion. My first question is: When will we ever stop blaming the “Spaniards”, and for once, take responsibility for our shortcomings? We seem to have this habit of blaming just about every thing and everybody, every time something goes wrong. We blame the Americans, the Spaniards, the corrupt system, democracy etc., etc. We never stop and just look at ourselves.

I have heard this rhetoric about our “colonial masters” since time in memorial. It is true, that people like the Spaniards left us with a lot of “bad” habits and practices, and we have suffered because we carried these bad traits through the generations but when will we just STOP, ASSESS, ADAPT and OVERCOME??? How many generations more did you plan to keep blaming Spain? 2? 5? 10 generations more before we say enough is enough?

I take offense when you imply that our people are destined to be “stupid” and “lazy” because they were made to be just that….

Reading Jawbreakers frustration that there are so many able-bodied Filipinos lazing around instead of working, and thus in a small way, be able to contribute to society, makes me want to go out and convey that very message and challenge these very people to do just that because they are certainly capable of much, much more.

On the other hand, reading your response offends me deeply, you are in effect writing off the common tao as “No good”, incapable of improving, branding them as hopeless, and worse, insult them by asking people to pity them? Because of certain factors like the Spaniards… etc! Where is the self-respect we are trying to teach here?

You were just short of predicting that their children’s children are already bound to be poor and thus incapable of anything else because of excuse number 1, 2, 3, 4…. Man, certainly, this is not the message I’d want to convey. You have just given them a blanket excuse not to do well. Is it just my misunderstanding of your message? Or you really intend it to be this way?

Elite – I can feel your contempt and disgust when you address this group. I also felt this contempt spill over to what we would understand today as the “Middle class”. In a sense you were kind of mocking Jawbreaker’s notion of him being in this group, since he now capable of paying taxes. To sum this part up, you even posed this question: “Trabaho ka ng Trabaho – yumaman ka na ba?” Excuse me for asking, but isn’t Jawbreaker’s position of having a steady job, a million times better than doing nothing at all? What are you trying to teach? If you won’t get filthy rich might as well sit and scratch your stomach? In essence, you ridicule the efforts of the likes of Jawbreaker and his taxpaying abilities and would rather condone the act of doing nothing because to you, the massa is destined to be unproductive? –

Again, what kind of values do you want our brothers and sisters to learn?

Hey, while I’m at it, forgive me for mentioning this… Please don’t look with contempt at people who dress-up better than some. It may be a form of expression or pride. It is in no way elitist. It may encourage people to strive for more… If you will in some stroke of luck – be in power in the near future…just promise me, you won’t make everybody wear gray-like-pajamas as some sort of national outfit just so there won’t be any class distinction. I still have to see a socialist or a communist society that has no elites.

Before I continue, (Has no bearing) let me ask you one thing. I am just curious. Is it wrong for people to accumulate wealth thru hard work? If not, let us say you were an exceptional businessman and you made it rich? What will be your immediate goal? Is it to pass on to your children the fruits of what you have labored so hard for? If again true, should your children’s generation despise your children for inheriting such wealth? - Unless, of course you believe that whatever you accumulate during your lifetime should be returned to the state upon your death…

I agree with you that education is our biggest hope, if not our only way of advancing ourselves. I don’t agree though that government made it hard for our people to get educated as you said. I also don’t agree that the reason why there are a lot of illiterates is because of economic reasons. It is just not so… I have lived inside shanty communities (squatters) and money does circulate.

In every society, there are the extreme rich and the extreme poor. Of course, I know what you are talking about when you say the kind of poor who are spread-out on our 7100 islands. C’mon, before, we think about them, let us first, get those that can go to school – into school! If we keep dwelling about our poorest –we will never move forward. The use of being poor is such an over used excuse already.

If you want proof to what I am saying, - easy! just ask your friendly taxi-driver, basurero, your house hold help, your taho guy, your fisherman, whoever. Just pose this question: “kahirapan ba ang dahilan kung bakit ang daming bata hindi nag-a-aral?” *Is poverty the reason why many children do not go to school? – I assure you, you will get a quick response to the contrary. They will even laugh at the notion that people are still using poverty as a reason for not sending their child to school. Now, I am not denying the fact that there are really people who are the poorest of the poor. Every country has these and this has to be addressed as a separate issue and be treated in a special manner.

Taxes - I am sure deep inside you, you know that this should be our stately obligation to our country. We should pay our taxes and thus demand better governance. Let us not discuss where our taxes go for the moment. I agree with you that we should hunt down those corrupt officials who pocket the money. Anyway, I also think that it is both your obligation and mine to teach the value of paying taxes to all our brothers and sisters. To do the opposite is irresponsible and should be considered an act of treason. We should instill to the people that paying taxes is a good thing. You don’t need to give to charities or what not, unless, it is really needed (extra action) Just paying the right taxes, you would have done your share as a Filipino. It is something to be proud of.

I understand your distress when Jawbreaker seemed to vent his ire and target those non-tax payers, and those able-bodied, non-productive persons. You even try to re-direct these frustrations at those corrupt officials and what have you… Have we not been doing this for the longest time?

Is it not time that we start the change within ourselves and the rest will follow.

We just need to raise our social consciousness to levels we have never been to before and that can only come from within us. It is really irritating to see these non-productive persons be the first to demand this and that but they have no concept of what contribution is all about.

Yes, you talked about the farmers…I guess, I know about them too. Of course, they contribute a lot. To be commended are some of them that have placed value on getting their children to school. They understand that farming will get them only so far. Now, these children are successful and are bringing out their families from poverty.

There are those that ascribe to your thinking. All they want to do is to dwell on what should have been instead of just buckling down and planning wisely their efforts. They become poorer and poorer because they are made to believe that they are capable of nothing more. In the end they are made to believe that the gun is the only way…. old story. Old trick – I should say….

By the way, there is a saying out in the countryside that nobody dies of hunger. You just need to plant and reap the benefits. Taking hunger out of the equation, they just need to ensure that their children go to school.

It is really hard work; we are lucky that my grandfather thought of putting up a school when he was alive.

I think a lot about the children who come from other farms to go to school in our place. Imagine, what they have to go through. They have to pass several farms before they could reach ours. The temptation of being side tracked with play is big. Then I see a few of these parents, day-in, day-out bringing their children to school and picking them up. They ensure that their children go in and study. Now, I hear these very children I have observed before are now successful with stable jobs here in Manila and a few outside of the country. Tell me if these were the very people you have written off as “No-chance” because of being “Poor”.

Ideology – No problem, I respect whatever ideology you adhere to. In the countryside the usual rhetoric’s being peddled is this: Said in a sympathetic coupled with deep empathy – As if they are defending the oppressed – but the end result is that you ask the people to fight for you.

“To all the people, do not blame yourself if you are poor because the landlords made you so. All this land is actually yours. (To cut it short) – Therefore you should fight (Kill) for it.”

No difference with what you are trying to say: “You people (massa) will always amount to nothing because of reasons no.1, 2, 3, 4, - don’t forget the “Spaniards”. It is not your fault that you are stupid and lazy. Here, you are only good to hold a gun. Let’s do a revolution…”

What is sad here is – you actually, are willing to spill blood from the Filipino people just to advance your ideology? – What is the matter with you???

I cannot believe. I know you are such a learned man with the way you wrote your reaction but then, is “Revolution” the only answer you can come up with because other solutions seemed so much work? Shortcut?

You are of the intellect group. Who do you think will be the “Elite” if let us say your goals of a revolution are achieved? And who will still be the “Massa”?

True stories from the countryside:

- What is poor? To me, poor was when we were so hungry without any money and it was late at night. We got some stones from the clean portion of the sea wall. We then placed them in a can and boiled water over it. This was enough to calm our stomachs for a couple of hours. The reason for the stones was for our soup to have a taste of the sea.

- 10 people were given land as a trial run for land reform. Just after 8 mos. There were only 2 big owners left standing. The rest just sub-leased their share for easy money and soon enough were back into complaining about how life was hard.

- Parents of farmers encourage their children to work in the fields for low pay because the money was paid weekly sometimes daily. (Quick return)

- Parents of farmers expect their children to work for them. Treating their children as their retirement package. That is why the more children the merrier.

- Parents more often than not are the first to claim the wages of the children. Often times wasting this away by drinking at night. (Both male and female)

- Etc. etc. more if you want to hear more.

The Sugar God

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