Guest post – The Ruins: “Taj Mahal” of Negros Island

mansion-ruins-at-night

Bacolod, Philippines.

Today’s Travel Tuesday is a guest post from author Stephen Bentley. A British expatriate now living in the Philippines, Stephen is a retired cop, and a retired attorney. After retirement, he moved to a beautiful part of the world, Bacolod, (a city of about half-a-million population) on the island of Negros. When not working on several writing projects, he spends his time enjoying the beaches and food of the Philippines. Word slinging is now his full time job, and Stephen has recently published a best selling book about his involvement in one of the world’s largest LSD busts while he lived undercover to infiltrate the criminal manufacturing and distribution network.

For a special feature Travel Tuesday, I invited Stephen to share with us details about an interesting place to visit while touring the Philippine Islands. Without further introduction, I present Mr. Stephen Bentley’s take on The Ruins, Bacolod’s #1 Tourist Attraction.

This post below first appeared at Expat in Bacolod, the blog of a Brit expat retired to the Philippines. Bacolod City is the capital of Negros Island, a province in the Republic of the Philippines. The city is known as “The City of Smiles” and the province as “The Sugar Bowl” of the Philippines.

The post is about a tourist attraction in Bacolod City known as “The Ruins.” The connection between “The Ruins,” once a magnificent family mansion, and the sugar industry? The mansion was built by a local sugar baron, one of the wealthy elite of Negrense society.

Sugar cane can be seen growing almost everywhere on Negros Island. There is a long history of sugar trade between the Unites States and the Philippines.

Prior to that it was us Brits who influenced the export of sugar from these islands. According to the Philippines Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA):

“After the British occupation of the Islands in 1764, the amount of sugar exports gradually increased. The establishment of the Royal Company of the Philippines in 1785 fomented trade in general and in the following year the company exported 860 arrobas to Spain. Ten times this amount was sent to India and China in 1788. In 1789, it was reported that the Island has exported 40 to 50,000 piculs or from 2000 to 3500 short tons. During the period 1775 to 1779, the Philippines was the largest exporter of sugar in all Asia.”

The SRA article continues:

“The Port of Manila was gradually opened to ships of all nations starting in 1785 doing away with the monopolistic restrictions spawned by the galleon trade. At the beginning, only Asian goods in Asian ships could be brought in. Four years later, at the petition of the Royal Company, a royal decree legally opened Manila to non-Asian shipping.  By 1796, the SS Astrea of Salem docked in Manila whence all restriction had been lifted. This was the start of sugar trade between the Philippines and the United States.”

Then came Nicolas Loney, Britain’s Vice-Consul to Iloilo (another province) in 1856 who acted as the catalyst that skyrocketed the sugar industry of the region to unprecedented heights. Through his firm of Loney and Kee Co., he supplied most of the capital for sugarcane growing. He convinced the American house of Russell and Skurgis to open a branch in Iloilo for the purpose of giving crop loans to sugar planters. Eventually he arranged for two British Brigs, the SS Pet and The SS Camilla to call at the Port of Iloilo to load several thousand piculs of his sugar to Melbourne, Australia where the Victoria Sugar Co. was avidly waiting for them. The other British colony, New Zealand, was also a good market for unrefined sugar.

The SRA article then explains the involvement of the United States:

“The development of the Philippine sugar industry prospered and was encouraged during the American occupation of the country by allowing the Philippines to export sugar to the United States under preferential terms.

It will be recalled however, that the U.S. became a market for the Philippine sugar as early as 1796.  From 1880 to 1889 sugar exports to the U.S. averaged approximately 200,000 metric tons annually. Then, as now the U.S. has become the country’s principal export market.

In 1902, by an act of Congress, the U.S. admitted entry of the Philippine sugar, paying only 75% of the duty or 1.685 cents per pound.In 1909, the U.S. Congress passed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. This law established a limited free trade arrangements between the U.S. and the Philippines. Under this free trade arrangements, 300,000 tons of sugar can be admitted to the U.S. free of duty.

In 1913, the U.S. Congress enacted the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Law which removed the quantitative limitation on duty-free products of the Philippines entering the U.S.

Under this stimulus, the Philippine sugar industry developed and expanded. Forty seven (47) mills were established before the last world war. Production rose by 502% from 206,000 tons in the 1912-1913 crop year to an all time high of 1,565,405 tons for 1933-1934.

….

In 1977, the country had an oversupply of sugar. With the price down, there were no buyers. While white stocks were deteriorating, new crops were waiting to be harvested. As a consequence, there were no lenders to the sugar industry as traditional bankers cut back on sugar loans to protect their investment. Planters could not pay their loans. Workers could not be paid. The sugar industry was in the verge of collapse. Decisive measures were needed to save the industry.”

Subsequent administrations in Manila passed various decrees to ensure the sugar industry in the Philippines survived. I recommend the SRA article as essential reading to anyone interested in the history of the Philippines sugar industry.

Bacolod #1 Tourist Attraction – The Ruins

What qualifies as the Bacolod #1 Tourist Attraction? It has to be the Ruins. Strictly speaking, it’s in Talisay but …

 

mansion-ruins-at-night

 

It has taken me the best part of two years to finally visit and it was worthwhile. It is a superb destination and only a short distance from the city.

Some know it as the “Taj Mahal” of Negros Island because of the sad love story that underpins the history of the grand building. It is a shell now, but a magnificent shell.

It’s a shell owing to the fact it was burnt to the ground.

During WW2, when the United States Armed Forces in the Far East came to the area, there were some rumors that the Japanese forces might use the mansion as its headquarters. To prevent it from becoming as such, the mansion was burned.

It took 3 days of burning to consume all of its roof, ceiling, floors, doors and windows – all of which were made of hard wood like tindalo, narra, and kamagong. When the flames finally died down, only the following had withstood the fire: the pillars of the mansion, the grand staircase, as well as parts of the two-inch wooden floors on the second story.

The History Behind the Ruins

Love, so goes a saying, comes from the most unexpected places. That happened to Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, who frequented Hong Kong with his friend when he was a young man. There, the sugar baron met Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady from Macau. Smitten by her beauty, he courted her and eventually married her.

Don Mariano brought his wife to Talisay and started their own family. They were blessed with 10 children, two of whom became government officials. When Maria was pregnant with her 11th child, she slipped in the bathroom and started to bleed. In those days, in 1911, it would take two days to travel with horse-drawn carriage from Talisay to the town of Silay, where a doctor lived.

By the time the doctor arrived – on the fourth day – Maria and her baby were gone. Her death brought Don Mariano to depression; to get him out of it, he embarked on building a house in memory of his wife.

Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson was a captain of his own ship. Many items from Europe and China, ranging from machuca tiles, chandeliers, and china wares were carted to Talisay. He even brought some construction workers from China to help build the mansion.

After 3 years of construction, the mansion was finally finished. The A-grade concrete and oversized twisted bars used in its construction have contributed much to the strength of the skeletal frame of the structure. The finishing touches on the walls and posts were a mixture of pure concrete with egg whites, resulting in a marble-like finish which can be seen and felt even to this day.

Because Don Mariano built the mansion in honor of his beloved wife, as proof of his unwavering love for Maria, you can see their initials molded on every post of the mansion,  The 2 Ms facing each other (looking like an E at first glance), stand for Mariano and Maria.

My Take on The Ruins

A great day out! You can easily spend hours here wallowing in the ambiance and the history of the place. Roger* is the esteemed guide and he gives his talk on the half-hour. Don’t miss it, he is funny and informative.

An added bonus was meeting my friend, Ben, for the first time and taking him to the Ruins.

The gardens are also a treat for sore eyes. It is such a relaxing place. There is also a cafeteria serving food and coffee. We tried the pizza and it was delicious. The native coffee is also very good.

Will I return? You bet!

 

*PS note to Roger – it wasn’t “the US – Japan war.” It was the Allies against Japan. The Allied forces fought against both Hitler’s Germany and Japan.  Those soldiers, sailors and airmen came from many countries including mine, the United Kingdom. Many young men gave up their lives in the struggle.

My own grandfather was in action against the Japanese. He served in the British Royal Navy and was on board when the Japanese sank his ship the Prince of Wales off Singapore. He survived but hundreds did not.

Many Filipinos also fought and died in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. So, please modify your description of that war to accurately reflect what it was all about.

 

How to get there: A cab ride from Bacolod City will take about 15-20 minutes; it is 10-15 minutes away from the Bacolod-Silay airport. Take the Circumferential Road (new access road to the airport) and turn west upon seeing the sign to The Ruins. Alternatively, head out toward Talisay from the city and take the Bata fly over with the new Ceres North Bus terminal on the right. Take a right about 1 km after the bus terminal.

There are tricycles at the Ruins to get you back to the National Highway if you wish to ride a bus back into Bacolod.

 

You can find the Ruins Facebook page here.

 

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