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The Sugar Cultural Landscape of Negros and Panay Islands

Date of Submission: 07/02/2024
Criteria: (ii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Philippines to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental on Negros Island, Provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, and Antique on Panay Island, and Province of Guimaras
Ref.: 6713

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Historic Center of Silay City: 10°47' N, 122°58' E
Hawaiian-Philippine Company: 10°49' N, 123°0' E
Victorias Milling Company: 10°52' N, 123°3' E
Hacienda Santa Rosalia: 10°56' N, 123° 6' E
Balay ni Tana Dicang: 10°44' N, 122°57' E
Aniceto Lacson Mansion: 10°43' N, 122°58' E
Historic Center of Iloilo City (Calle Real): 10°41' N, 122°34' E

The cultivation of sugar is believed to have originated among the Austronesian peoples in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea over ten thousand years ago and gradually spread across the world.  It returned to the Philippines – thus marking the crop’s circumnavigation of the globe – and began to be cultivated at scale during the Spanish colonial period, primarily on Panay and Negros Islands in the country’s Visayas Region, upon realizing that the climate and fertile soil of the area were favorable for sugarcane cultivation. This cultivation reached an industrial scale in the late 19th century, bringing about significant transformations, leading to migrations of sugar workers to the haciendas on the islands of Panay and Negros, the rise of a prosperous landowning class wielding significant local and national economic and political power, the blending of local cultures and traditions with foreign influences and technologies through international trade. 

The nominated areas and properties include old sugarcane haciendas, active, and non-active sugar mills over a century-old, town centers that developed and architecturally distinct mansions were built, showcasing the wealth derived from sugarcane cultivation and trade. 

The introduction of industrial sugarcane farming technology, first brought by French sugar expert Yves Leopold Gaston, was the primary driver for the industry's development. By 1848, his influence grew and other influential families invested in the production of the crop, significantly increasing output. In the late 1850s, British Vice-Consul Nicholas Loney arranged for the province to be equipped with milling equipment, credit access, and other tools and assistance necessary for its continued growth. This birthed a new generation of entrepreneurs that sought to consolidate land and create large plantations for sugar. This was first embodied by haciendas and later, by sugar centrals. The creation of various jobs for local farmers, farmworkers, and migrant laborers, along with wealth from sugar production, penetrated every other area of Philippine society, spurring the growth and economic development of many communities.

Haciendas and sugar centrals were not just centers of economic development during this time but also of the social and cultural life of the people of Panay and Negros. It shaped the hierarchy and lifestyles of the sugar society, the rise of its landowning class to national prominence, and spurred the creation of new traditions and beliefs. The migrant laborers or sacadas – usually coming from Antique or Negros Oriental during peak seasons to help in daily agricultural activities – reflects a pattern of labor migration that started during the Spanish colonial period and persists until the present day. This led to the creation of a diverse and multicultural population in sugar-producing areas.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Sugar Cultural Landscape of Negros and Panay Islands showcases the legacy of the sugar industry brought by the industrialization of sugar production in the late 18th century, such as mills, factories, plantations, buildings, and mansions, that reflect the social and economic dynamics of the late Spanish-colonial and American-colonial eras. The mills of Hawaiian-Philippine Company and Victorias are still existing and representative of the industrialization of sugar production, including the communities established therein. Hacienda Rosalia is exceptional as an example of a working hacienda and its mansion, while the houses of the Historic Center of Silay, the Aniceto Lacson Ancestral Mansion, and Balay ni Tana Dicang capture in an urban setting the wealth and history of the region.  While these sites on Negros embody the cultivation and production of sugar, the Historic Center of Iloilo, on the other hand, embodies the trade and commerce that was generated by the crop.   

While many sugar producing regions of the world relied heavily on slave labor – and not to detract from the gravity of the socio-economic circumstances (and debt bondage in particular) of farm workers – the workers in the Philippine sugar industry were not bound by race, were not classified as chattel, with the sacada in particular being free to travel from different communities to the haciendas and between different haciendas.  This labor and the local climate, magnified by the industrialization of sugar production, and enhanced by favorable international trading arrangements, marks the convergence of socio-cultural, economic and trade, technology and innovation from across the world for the outstanding universal value.

Criterion (ii): The islands of Panay and Negros emerged as a major global exporter of sugar, elevating the Philippines' position in 19th-century trade with the United States, England, and Australia. The surviving sugar production sites, structures, and practices represent significant industrial achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries, with sugar centrals around Negros and Panay serving as industrial complexes during the peak of global sugar demand in a socio-economic system that was not anchored on slavery.

This industrialization and trade elevated the city of Iloilo to an international trading hub, while the abundant harvests played a pivotal role in shaping the economic and social fabric of communities across Negros and Panay. The enduring influences of this heritage can be seen in preserved historic architectural structures and agricultural landscapes scattered throughout the region. Spanish-colonial bahay na bato, American-colonial Neoclassical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco buildings, incorporated with Filipino vernacular architecture can be found in many old towns across Western Visayas, heavily concentrated in the area of Iloilo City in Panay Island and the northwestern areas of Negros Island. These colonial influences can also be observed in the urban planning of historic towns, preserved heirloom recipes, and the livelihood practices of the local population.

The evolution of sugar production techniques reflects the history of agro-industrialization, showcasing the exchange of knowledge and equipment between Spain, America, and the Philippines. The transition from haciendas to centralistas or sugar centrals exemplifies how technological progress shaped both the industry and the socio-economic structure of the community, ultimately transforming the region's landscape, and epitomizing the early days of globalization.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The properties that have been identified as significant to this nomination are privately owned, except for (1) Calle Real, Iloilo City which is a heritage zone designated by the Iloilo City Government, and a declared district and heritage zone by the National Historic Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), and (2) the Historic Center of Silay City, which has a large collection of preserved heritage houses which have been declared by the NHCP as part of the Silay National Historical Landmark.

The Hawaiian-Philippines Co. and Victorias Milling Corporation are operational sugar centrals. Hacienda Santa Rosalia currently functions as a private home, with open tours for visitors around the ancestral mansion, chapel, and grounds conducted by the owner. The Balay ni Tana Dicang also operates as a museum managed by the private owner, while the Aniceto Lacson Mansion, with cooperation with the private owner, will be adaptively reused by the National Museum of the Philippines. All sites reside in private ownership, and all site managers are committed to their preservation.

Local governments involved with the sugar heritage landscape are studying the viability of protecting through local legislation many sites and structures related to the cultivation and production of sugar.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Sugar Heritage Landscape of Western Visayas encapsulates the region's journey of growth and development, which was significantly influenced by historical colonial ties and emblematic of globalization during its time.  While there are similarities between the Western Visayas Sugar Landscape and the Industrial Heritage of Barbados, of which both are influenced by the sugar revolution and colonial rule, sugar cultivation was already practiced by Filipinos in the pre-colonial period and was expanded to several small sugar plantations across the country under Spanish rule. However, both stories are still interrelated. The origins of Western Visayas’ sugar boom can be traced back to the West Indies, where the abolition of slavery and rising global demand for sugar prompted West Indian planters to seek cost-effective labor sources from the Asian continent. This shift catalyzed a significant migration and expansion of sugarcane plantations throughout Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. In particular, Western Visayas stood out due to its fertile land and the affordability of labor, making it an ideal location for sugar cultivation and trade.

With the transition of the bulk of sugar cultivation and trade to the Asian continent, it is necessary to draw comparisons with similar sugar-related sites that are not necessarily on the World Heritage and Tentative Lists found in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines, particularly the Western Visayas Region, benefitted from favorable factors such as the cheapness and relative fertility of the land, the low cost of labor, the continual growth of demand, and very low taxes. In contrast to other Southeast Asian nations, the Philippines adopted the Hacienda System dating back to its Spanish-colonial past.

Java Island in Indonesia served as the Philippines’ closest competitor during the Sugar Revolution in the 19th century. Its sugar industry was controlled by their Dutch colonists which also allowed them access to modern agricultural technologies. However, the Java sugar industry came entirely into the hands of European entrepreneurs, and later of European cultivation banks, while the Philippines’ sugar industry remained in the hands of the Filipinos (Wolters, 1992). The wealth generated by sugar brought significant transformation to the Western Visayas landscape, reflected by intact historical towns and mansions, such as Silay City and Hacienda Santa Rosalia, with its well-preserved Spanish and American colonial architecture still cared for by sugar families dating back to the 19th century.