The cane sugar industry traditionally, in the Philippines as in
many countries, has fostered disparities in wealth that frustrate rising expectations.
Every planter and worker knows the dilemmaas population increasesof sharing a
father's job among several sons. For youth, prospects of finding dignity and a decent
living are dim.
As a solution for the depressed Dacongcogon Valley of southern Negros Occidental,
BENJAMIN GASTON, in 1958, began looking for means to build a sugar mill. Residents were
chiefly children of settlers to whom his father, as Provincial Governor, had distributed
homesteads in the 1930s, or families whose resettlement he had himself administered in the
Poor roads, inadequate capital and skills, and lack of organization forced farmers to
sell meager crops at low prices to middlemen. By 1967, 80 percent of settled lands were
subject to foreclosure for unpaid loans.
Priest to the Negrenses for 23 years and a prime mover of social change in the
province, ANTONIO FORTICH in January 1967 became Bishop of Bacolod. Deeply rooted in local
conditions, he sought a just society of recognized rights and responsibilities, prodding
planters and centrals (sugar mills), priests, politicians and the less privileged to
cooperate in meeting glaring needs.
From collaboration between the Bishop and GASTON grew creation, in 1968, of the
Dacongcogon Producers Cooperative Marketing Association, Inc., now with 1,234 members. The
next year they organized the Dacongcogon Sugar and Rice Milling Company, Inc. Alternating
their original positions, the Bishop now serves as head of the company and GASTON of the
cooperative. Financial ingenuity allowed acquisition of an old sugar mill in Silay and its
transfer to Dacongcogon as the first project of the company. The mill's former owners and
the National Investment and Development Corporation hold 13.7 million pesos in stock for
sale only to Cooperative members who contribute four pesos from their return on each
63.25-kilo picul of their 60 percent of sugar milled. From the small first and second
crops of cane milled, the future owners have accumulated P862,000 to buy shares.
Beginning with the 1975-76 crop, the Dacongcogon Company is to repay over 15 years the P27
million borrowed from the Philippine National Bank. Utilized to move, establish and
modernize the 1,500-tons-per-day mill, this loan also financed roads, tractors and trucks.
Special presidential sanction allowed the Development Bank of the Philippines to
restructure old loans to farmers, who, in turn, are showing encouraging capacity to learn
to repay their new crop loans.
Notable among donations are technical assistance from the Victorias Milling Company, cane
points from established planters and Provincial Government help on roads and bridges.
Following his bishop's lead, the parish priest has persuaded farmers to work together and
hold onto their land.
While skeptics question whether these small planters will be led astray by their new cash
resources or sell out to larger interests, the Cooperative has increased tenfold the
members who have secured title to their lands. Corn and upland and lowland rice are also
producing yields and prices new to these formerly subsistence farmers. Economic vitality
in the "Valley of Tall Grass" is evidence of what people, church and government
can accomplish together, under effective and enlightened leadership.
In electing Bishop ANTONIO YAPSUTCO FORTICH and BENJAMIN CORTEZA GASTON to receive the
1973 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes their
engineering of an experiment in rural development giving small, indebted farmers in
Dacongcogon Valley control of their livelihood and new hope.