by Oliver Carlos
In my Philippine History classes, I always emphasize the importance of digging local history. During the pre-pandemic years, I asked my students to go out, look around, and interview old folks. They must research and discover for themselves stories that are not yet in history books. This is quite challenging, but many enjoyed this activity. A few of them discovered a Katipunero or a World War 2 guerrilla deep down in their own family tree, while others were able to unravel some historical mysteries about old buildings and structures in their neighborhood.
One recurring report every term is the story of the obscure tower in Barangay Pulo, Cabuyao, Laguna. This structure stands on a grassland near the stoplight of the barangay’s busy intersection. It is color gray, is more than 50 feet tall, and resembles the rook piece in chess. Although it looks imposing and interesting to me, most people overlook it. They just pass by it everyday not knowing what it is, or what it used to do in the past.
My students who chose the said tower for their local history report were able to trace the history of this underappreciated structure. This tower in Pulo was built in 1890, and so it’s more than 120 years old! The said structure is actually a sugar tower. It used to mill sugar or transform the sugarcane into the white powder-like sugar that we know. Long time ago, during the colonial years, there was a vast sugarcane plantation that stretched from Cabuyao to Binan. It included Canlubang and what is now Nuvali. There must be several of this kind of tower all over the said area, and this is probably the last one standing.
Incidentally, in one of my strolls in my alma mater UPLB, I happened to stumble on a similar-looking tower. It’s just smaller, maybe 15 feet tall only. It is color orange because of the bricks it was made of. The said tower is located at the mini quadrangle of the School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM), where I had my cognate when I was taking up my graduate studies. To my surprise, the tower had a marker beside it which states that it was built in 1920. Wow! This tower is likewise more than 100 years old!
Further research made me discover that the SESAM building was the old base of the BS Sugar Technology program of UPLB. Yes, there’s such a course (or program) like that. Students in that course study all about sugar, as they are trained to contribute to the sugar industry later on as professionals. I guess this specialization was popular during the American Colonial Period when UPLB was established. Sugar was a huge cash crop during that time. It is the main ingredient of softdrinks and candies, products that American companies sell all over the world. And guess what? The raw material comes from the Philippines.
Sugar comes from the plant called sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). It grows all over the tropics, but it is originally from Southeast Asia. Sugarcane is indeed a very important plant, that’s why farmers plant it. Through the centuries, the sugar industry has served as a big contributor in our economy, during the colonial years and even after that. Today, we use sugar in the kitchen, and we also see it in the labels of many processed foods. I think we can’t live without the “sweet” taste. Imagine life if there’s no “sweet” taste, if what we have are only salty, sour, bitter, and the other tastes. We all love and long for sweetness.
Do you know that the Bible is sweet? I’m not telling you to chew its pages and swallow it. I’m talking in a figurative way. The lessons we read in it will hype us up. It provides the necessary energy to keep us going thru the day. It’s mentioned several times, and here’s one sample:
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103, NIV)
The psalmist couldn’t contain his appreciation of God’s word. Just as sweet things make us happy, he too experiences great delight when he ponders on God’s words, most specially his promises.
Are you feeling sad today? Flip some pages of your Bible. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Just like the sugar towers, God will transform your day into a joyous one, by the power of his sweet words.