Land of Sweet Surprises

LAST Nov. 5, the first coffee-table book about the province of Negros Occidental was launched online in celebration of Cinco de Noviembre, a special non-working holiday in Bacolod City and the rest of Sugarlandia. By virtue of Republic Act No. 6709 enacted in 1989, the holiday pays tribute to the Negrense heroes who revolted against Spain in 1898.

Sugar & Smiles: The Negrense Legacy Beyond 2020 is the title of the 320-page book that includes chapters written by award-winning authors about events that have shaped Negros Occidental over the past two centu-ries. It is a compilation of colorful stories on various facets of life in the so-called “Sugar Bowl of the Philippines” and the “Land of Sweet Surprises.”

This heirloom collectible commemorates significant events in Negrense history such as the world-famous MassKara Festival and the short-lived Republic of Negros established by General Aniceto Lacson and General Juan Araneta in 1898. Illustrious Negrenses are featured in this coffee-table book dedicated to present and future generations of Filipinos.

Negrenses are no strangers to crises. From the Philippine Revolution of 1896 to the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986 and the current COVID-19 pandemic, the people of Negros Occidental have remained agile and resilient amid extremely disruptive conditions.

Kanlaon’s volcanic eruptions, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, Wall Street’s stock market crash in 1929 leading to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the sugarcane industry’s collapse during martial law, the Don Juan maritime tragedy of 1980, a series of super-typhoons in the 2010s – all these have not deterred the Negrenses from emerging stronger crisis after crisis.

In fact, Negros Occidental has risen to become one of the country’s premier provinces. Its capital, Bacolod City, is now among the centers of excellence in the top tier of Filipino Digital Cities 2025.

2020 marked the 130th year since the Province of Negros Occidental was created toward the tailend of the Spanish colonial era, and also the 40th anniversary of the MassKara Festival. It was envisioned to be the fitting climax for Negrense milestones that started in 2018 with the City of Bacolod’s 80th charter day commemoration and the 120th anniversary of the Republic of Negros.

But the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on humanity and inflicted the worst economic crisis since World War II. Both the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2020 World Expo Dubai had to be postponed to 2021, while many events and projects were canceled across the globe.

The Negrense coffee-table book project suffered delays in its production schedule, and producing the book in the middle of the pandemic posed challenges to our project team. Community quarantine restrictions adversely af-fected our timeline, and we could not hold face-to-face meetings in this country with the world’s longest lockdown.

But through the use of Zoom videoconferencing, Viber messaging, and other modern technologies, we were able to complete the hardbound book for our fellow Negrenses. Its first copies will be presented to Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson and Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia later this month. The public launch is scheduled on Nov. 30 at Ayala Malls Capitol Central adjacent to the Provincial Capitol and Park. Finally, the long wait is over.

-This first appeared on November 19, 2021 in BusinessWorld. 

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J. ALBERT GAMBOA is the chief finance officer of Asian Center for Legal Excellence and co-chairman of the FINEX Week Committee. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and BusinessWorld.