HIGHLIGHTS

  • 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.
  • From collaboration between the Bishop and GASTON grew creation, in 1968, of the Dacongcogon Producers Cooperative Marketing Association, Inc., now with 1,234 members.
  • Beginning with the 1975-76 crop, the Dacongcogon Company is to repay over 15 years the P27 million borrowed from the Philippine National Bank.
  • The RMAF 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.”

 CITATION

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 dilemma—as population increases—of 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 early 1950s.

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.

 RESPONSE

We have come today to accept this singular honor as one of the recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, fully cognizant of the challenge that goes with it.

Indeed the honor is overwhelming and viewed against the ideals, aims and purposes of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation one can only accept the same as indicating public recognition of the efforts and energies, as well as sacrifices and indomitable spirit, of the many men and women of goodwill who have kept faith with us during the most trying and difficult days at the inception of the Dacongcogon Cooperative Sugar Mill project.

The fact that a clergyman has been chosen this year under the category of Public Service has made the challenge doubly significant.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award for the Dacongcogon project clearly and mistakably shows what a resolute and dedicated group of men can do in the interest of the common good—indeed it is a tri-sectoral success. The Dacongcogon story stands as a positive fruition of the

common efforts of the Church and of deeply-concerned men in government and the private sector in the earnest search for a better life for the Filipino common man.

It was interest in the poor and the impoverished that propelled us in 1969 to undertake this socioeconomic project. This Award therefore will be to us a public covenant to pursue these goals which we have freely chosen for ourselves in the interest of justice, prosperity and the happiness of our people as a sound and firm foundation for the continued stability of our free way of life.

We accept this Award in all humility to signify our continuing commitment towards the liberation of our people from any and all systems and structures in our society that would impede their development as befits “creatures made in the image and likeness of God.”

For the many unheralded men and women who chose to cast their lot with the Dacongcogon project, the men and women in government who have immeasurably encouraged us during the trying and difficult days, we accept this Award and extend our thanks to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the honor.

 BIOGRAPHY

The collaboration between Bishop ANTONIO Y. FORTICH and businessman-planter BENJAMIN C. GASTON was a particularly fortuitous one. Both men were born in the same year on the same island, although in different provinces; both came from families of planters and sugar mill operators, and both understood the problems of the industry. Even more important, both were concerned with the welfare of the little man, the landless worker and the tenant farmer, who had to struggle against nature and a feudal economic system to earn enough to feed his family. When these two men of similar background and large hearts came together, they were able to bring positive change in the Dacongcogon Valley.

The Dacongcogon Valley of Negros Occidental, the Philippines, has been settled only recently. The “Valley of Tall Grass”—half a million acres deep in the mountains—was opened to homesteaders during the mid-1930s under the LASEDECO (Land Settlement and Development Corporation) Program of President Manuel Quezon and under the sponsorship of Governor Emilio Gaston, father of BENJAMIN GASTON.

The Gastons were of French ancestry, pioneers in sugar planting and milling, and one of the major economic and political forces in the province. Emilio Gaston built Talisay Milling and, with other family members, Victorias Milling; he was President of the Federation of Sugarcane Planters. Active in politics as co-founder of the Nacionalista Party, he was elected Governor of Negros Occidental in 1933.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)