Monday, May 08, 2006

An Englishman in Iloilo City

Near the entrance of the Iloilo City port stands the statue of Nicolas Loney, the British vice-consul who modernized the sugar industry in Western Visayas. Few Ilonggos care to know about this man, a foreigner, who brought about unprecedented development and wealth to the people of Iloilo City. Vestiges of the astonishing wealth generated by the sugar industry are still visible today thru the splendid mansions lining Jaro District today.

Nicolas Loney arrived in Iloilo City on July 31, 1856 to study the viability of exporting Philippine sugar to Europe. During that time, sugar was already being grown sporadically throughout Panay but not on a vast, plantation-type scale. In 1855, before Loney arrived in Iloilo City, Panay produced an average of only 750 tons of sugar a year. By 1860, five years after he arrived in Iloilo City, Philippine sugar exports rose tenfold to 7,500 tons!

Loney made this possible by first offering low-interest loans to hacienderos so they can have capital to hire workers to plant sugarcane in their vast tracts of land. He then offered to buy their sugarcane crop at attractive prices for export to Europe. He also exported modern machinery from England to replace the antiquated molinos and bought a fleet of ships (batels) to bring sugar from Negros and all over Panay to the Iloilo City port. The booming sugar industry gave birth to a myriad of ancillary businesses like banks, food establishments, schools, and shopping bazaars. Well-paying jobs in Iloilo City were available to qualified Ilonggos which allowed them to send their children to the best schools and to live comfortably and in style.

Undeniably, Nicolas Loney changed the course of history of Iloilo City. He convinced Ilonggo politicians and hacienderos to support his vision: to develop sugar as a major export crop and to make Iloilo City the center of the sugar industry. But what strikes me most about Loney was that he was able to achieve all of these at a young age: he was just 30 years old when he first arrived in Iloilo City in 1856. And like most great men of vision, he died young. Loney was only 41 years old when he died and he chose to be buried in Iloilo City, the city which owed him so much.

Today, sugar is no longer king of the cash crops and the astounding wealth brought about by the sugar industry are long gone. Stories are all that remain of that bygone era. As they say here in Iloilo City, “storya bilin.”

Nowadays, our government leaders are talking of mangoes being the next cash crop that will take the place of sugar. Others claim that that cash crop is our OFWs (nurses, DH, etc.) while others are excited about the prospects of tourism as the next dollar-earning “gold mine.” Still others are claiming that ICT (call centers, medical transcription centers) is the wave of the future. Whatever it is, one thing is certain: our leaders must get their acts together and push in one direction. We need a leader with a vision, someone who can unite our squabbling leaders and inspire our people to move towards achieving that vision. Perhaps what we need is another Nicolas Loney?

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