Business in Philippines' sugar capital sours, leaving communists to prosper
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The effect of the monopoly has been disastrous: A 1984 study by the University of the Philippines claims that it resulted in the loss to sugar producers of ``anywhere from 11.6 billion pesos to 14.4 billion pesos,'' ($580 million to $720 million).Skip to next paragraph
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The sugar monopoly and its sister the coconut monopoly -- controlled by another of Marcos's closest friends, Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. -- have been criticized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some planters, like Hortensia Starke, the outspoken head of the New Alliance of Sugar Planters, say Mr. Benedicto was ``ripping off'' the planters on behalf of himself and the President.
To defuse growing criticism at home and abroad, the government recently announced that the sugar trading monopoly would be abolished. Planters are skeptical.
One, Fred Pfleider, dismisses the sugar trading corporation's successor as ``same dog, different name.'' And government critics recently presented what they claimed was documentation of the illegal import into the Philippines of 237,000 tons of sugar to dump on the local market, depress prices, and make planters more amenable to working with the new trading body.
A new power is emerging in sugar -- and thus in Negros Occidental. Armando Gustilo, a longtime associate of Mr. Benedicto, seems to have become the dominant force in the industry. Some planters feel he has shouldered Benedicto aside.
``Benedicto is not as comfortable as Gustilo with the use of raw power,'' says Mr. Pfleider. Others feel Mr. Gustilo is simply ``fronting'' for Benedicto.
Gustilo reportedly controls the whole of northern Negros -- he is in fact said to be behind a bill in the National Assembly to create a new province of Negros del Norte. He is a very retiring person.
He lives near the northern town of Cadiz, in a large walled estate bounded on one side by the sea and located at the end of a long dirt road. When this writer asked for directions to the Gustilo estate at Cadiz police headquarters, the police tried to discourage the visit. There are a lot of armed men in the area, a policeman warned. And when we arrived, the Gustilo security men seemed to be expecting visitors.
A well-built, uneffusive man carrying an Uzi submachine gun, 45-caliber pistol, and a radio stopped this writer at the front gate. He said Gustilo was unavailable and advised against waiting. Several other well-armed men inside the gate emphasized this message.
Meanwhile the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been spreading fast into northern Negros, which until this year had been virtually immune from insurgency.
In March it made its biggest arms seizure ever, taking some 520 guns from the arsenal of the Visayas Maritime Academy, said to be run by Benedicto and located about six miles from downtown Bacolod City. In late May communists inflicted heavy casualties on a detachment of the government's crack Scout Rangers in a daylight attack on a town south of Bacolod City.
``We don't know where they [the communist forces] are or who they are,'' said a military officer. ``People don't tell us who they are, which means they have a lot of local support.''
The communist army says it has been swamped with recruits recently. ``Our Negros recruitment target for the last three months has been exceeded by 50,'' says a communist cadre.
A headline in the April edition of Ang Bayan, the Communist Party's clandestine monthly, summed up the underground's view of the situation here: ``Social conditions in Negros are the best for revolution.''