Sugarcane wine and September


Last of two parts

For the benefit of aspiring small-scale mill and winery operators among us: a 5-hectare canefield planted to a non-flowering, highsucrose cane variety can produce juice for more than 200 cooking batches per season – enough supply for a veritable wine and vinegar factory.

But I didn’t write this piece merely to encourage cottage-industry capitalism. I wrote it to explain why basi became so explosive an issue during Spanish times that it triggered a revolt, the 200th anniversary of which we commemorate this month of September.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the basi factories of Ilocos must have been so prosperous that the Spanish regime considered them a threat to Spain’s wine industry. Vigan (then known as Ciudad Fernandina) had become an important stop in the galleon trade, and Spain wanted to profit by selling more of its wines to the Ilocos natives. Thus, in 1786, the Spanish regime declared a wine monopoly. The Ilocanos were banned from fermenting and drinking home-made basi, and were compelled to buy their wine from government stores. This was on top of the tobacco monopoly, imposed five years earlier in 1781, which also hit the Ilocano farmers hard.

Now if you truly know the Ilocano psyche, at least in the feudal macho mode, the one thing you don’t dictate to him, ever, is where to get his vice.

After years of increasing resentment against the GATT-like economic impositions, on September 16, 1807, the people of Piddig, Ilocos Norte rose in revolt against the wine monopoly. They successively entered the nearby towns of Sarrat, Laoag and Batac, recruited more rebels, and made the liberated towns their base of operations. The rebels then advanced southward, entering Badoc and Santo Domingo, ultimately intending to capture Vigan, capital of then Ilocos province.
Interestingly – as historian Renato Constantino noted – the rebellious Ilocanos directed their fury not so much against the Spanish colonial regime directly, as against the principales who had become “not just colonial intermediaries, but active exploiters.” Constantino thus quotes Sinibaldo de Mas: “The principales were the aim of the popular wrath in the Ilocos insurrection in 1807. ‘Kill all the dons and doñas’ was the cry, while the people hastened toward the capital to petition for the abolition of the monopolies and the fifths.” Constantino saw in the revolt “the beginnings of mass movements with class content directed against foreign and local exploiters and putting forward demands of an egalitarian nature.”

The Spanish alcalde mayor based in Vigan sent a force of 36 Spanish Army soldiers with a cannon and
two platoons of Guardia Civil to attack the rebel force advancing southward in Badoc. The rebels repulsed the soldiers and civil guards, and captured the cannon. Town after town fell to the rebels, who recruited more forces along the way to Vigan.

Two weeks later, however, the alcalde mayor led another force of regular Spanish troops. On September 28, 1807, they attacked and defeated the rebel force massed at San Ildefonso, on the south banks of the Bantaoay River. The battle was so ferocious, historical accounts say, that the river turned red with blood. Thus ended what is know recorded in history books as the 1807 Basi Revolt.

“So you see, Kabsat Kandu, based on our history, it really doesn’t take much for our people to be fired enough to resist oppressive government, even to take up arms and die for their demands. What we need is leadership with vision, with historical perspective. Ever been to the Burgos Museum in Vigan? It’s all there, the 14 paintings depicting the revolt. Psst! You listening?” “Huh? Oh. Er, I was just thinking…” My neighbor’s voice trailed off as he gazed again in the direction of the presumed limestone cave graveyard of Kidit, Benguet Ibaloy resistance hero, just back of our line of houses upslope. “What were you thinking?” “If the wine monopoly triggered the September 1807 revolt, and Chavit Singson’s jueteng expose in September 2000 triggered the EDSA-2 revolt, could it be another September event – maybe revolving around another vice – that may trigger yet another revolt?”
Kabsat Kandu has these flashes of insight, I know, but his numerology and calendar-based prophecies are too hot to handle. What I’m sure of is that I planted my sugarcanes many rainy seasons ago, they are now in semi-wild proliferation, and based on my own calendar-based prophecy, a modest batch is ready for harvest by March next year. Anyone ready to make basi? #