Bridging the Gap
Iloilo's economic transformation in the 19th Century
The development of large-scale commercial weaving, beginning with the late 18 th century, was the first factor that provided the impetus towards Iloilo's economic transformation. By the 19 th century, the textile production of Iloilo had already reached a remarkable degree of development. In fact, Iloilo at that time was referred to as “the textile capital” of the Philippines (Funtecha, 1981). Its main trade textile products were pina, jusi, sinamay, cotton and silk fabrics. Pina, the specialty of Ilonggo weavers, was made from pineapple fibers; jusi was the combination of pina and seda (silk), while sinamay was woven from abaca and cotton.
The early growth of the handicraft weaving industry eventually brought about a considerable export of textile goods to Manila and foreign countries, and resulted in the earliest recorded capital accumulation among Iloilo's emerging urban elite. It also gave rise to Western Visayas' first substantial urban concentration in Arevalo, Jaro and Molo. Capitalized and managed by an urban commercial elite of mestizos, mostly of mixed Filipino-Chinese percentage, a huge number of women weavers crowded into small factories located in the towns of Iloilo, Jaro, Molo, Arevalo and Mandurriao.
The next factor that was instrumental in the development of Iloilo was the opening of its port to world trade in 1855 through a Royal Decree of the Spanish government (De Mas, 1963). This was the result of an economic survey of the Philippines in 1842 that recommended the opening of additional ports in Iloilo, Zamboanga, Cebu, and Sual in Pangasinan, aside from Manila, to international trade. The Spaniards hoped that this move would stimulate economic development in other parts of the country outside of Manila.
The opening of the port of Iloilo to world trade was brought about by the realization of the Spaniards that, for centuries already, Iloilo had been active in the coast-wise shipping and trade. It also had a number of boat-building centers. Also significant is the fact that the port of Iloilo was/is among the safest in the Philippines. The island of Guimaras provides it with a natural shield from the wind and large waves.
As a result of the opening of the port of Iloilo, agriculture and industry in the areas around the town of Iloilo and in the province were stimulated by access to direct exporting and importing, and many new economic opportunities came into being. The town of Iloilo became a thriving port with ships from all over the world docking in its harbor (Scheidnagel, 1880).
It is recognized that Iloilo's major development and greatest prosperity was caused by the boom in the sugar industry. This began with the coming of Nicholas Loney in the middle part of 1856 as the first British vice-consul in Iloilo. He found the soil of Iloilo and Negros to be suited to the cultivation of sugarcane. In his interest to advance sugar as the leading industry in the region, he imported sugarcane cuttings from Sumatra, offered to sell iron plows and modern milling machines, and granted the first crop loans to planters. (Sonza, 1977).
With incentives given to sugar production, plantations increased very rapidly in both Panay and Negros. It must be borne in mind that basic to the development of the sugar industry was the opening of lands in Negros, their planting to sugarcane, and the start of the hacienda system. Because of the demand and good prices for sugar and the availabilityof loans, Iloilo's well-to-do families made an exodus to Negros and developed large haciendas, whose owners later came to be called “sugar barons”. Following in the wake of these “sugar barons” were the poor class of migrant workers who later became collectively known as “sacadas”.
With the opening of large haciendas in Negros and the availability of modern machinery, adequate financing, and exporting facilities, the sugar industry grew by leaps and bounds. This eventually had significant consequences in making the port of Iloilo into an entrepot
of sugar trade, considering that Negros did not have a port and the required facilities for such a purpose. What happened therefore, was that sugar produced in Negros had to be shipped to Iloilo, where the necessary support infrastructure and auxiliary services were available. This, to a large extent, resulted in making Iloilo as the premiere urban center in Western Visayas during the second half of the 19th century.