Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Reinventing an icon
By Bong Lacson

Jul 06, 2017

COVERED NOW in defining SM-blue is the frontage where used to rise a mountain of bagasse opposite Pampanga’s iconic sugar central – leading those not-in-theknow to anticipate yet another Henry Sy mall in the city.

Fact is, there is much anticipation rising out of the area, not for one more mall that’s got it all though but for the mix-use, ten-year P30- billion project of Megaworld Corp. dubbed The Capital Town, right at the site of the long-defunct Pampanga Sugar Development Company.

Historic Pasudeco it is that has been bequeathed the distinct honor of being incorporated in the official seals of the City of San Fernando and the Province of Pampanga.

Now, but for its two chimneys, nothing’s there but the rubble of history.

Exactly nine years ago this month started the irreversible shift that has come to this. Zona, July 29, 2008 thus:

SENTRAL.” That was how it was called for as long as I can remember.

And I do remember well having had a really personal attachment to the place.

In my boyhood, from the green rice fields of somnolent Sto. Tomas, lounging at the backs of carabaos we took to pasture, we eagerly anticipated the first signs of black smoke from its twin chimneys signaling the start of the milling season, cabio it was called in Kapampangan, usually in mid-October.

It would be time for my father to store in our lalam-bale his farm implements and report to the sentral as seasonal worker, a bagon driver. No, he never referred to himself as a freight train engineer. It was, to him, too lofty and presumptuous a title.

Pre-elementary – we were too poor for me to enter kindergarten – Tatang routinely took me along whenever he was on the primera shift. I enjoyed those downhill rides especially when he allowed me to pull the lever that sounded the horn. On the tersera shift, the family anticipated Tatang coming home early morning with cans of inuyat which we ambula in steaming rice and gatas damulag.

That Tatang served the sentral well was given testimony on his 25th year of service: some cash award, a certificate of recognition for his loyalty signed by the president of the sentral , the respected Gerry Rodriguez, and a black-dialed Seiko 5 watch.

That our family was served well by the sentral was seen through our family having coped with the hard times, all seven of us kids getting through high school and college before Tatang retired.

That the sentral served well not only the capital San Fernando but the whole of Pampanga was manifested in its chimneys made a part of the official seal of the province.

Ah, those smoking chimneys. The very signs of progress in my youth turned to be the symbols of environmental degradation in my early adulthood. The sentral became the scourge of Pampanga that poisoned the air with its smoke, and the river with its acrid and acidic effluents.

At the Department of Public Information, Region 3 office where I sat as bureauratmediaman, the sentral became public enemy number one from the late ‘70s through the ‘80s. And a war we did wage in the press, in various fora, up to the National Pollution Control Commission until the sentral was ordered to buy and operate some pollution-abatement devices.

Segue now to the ‘90s: the sentral not spared from the aftereffects of the Mount Pinatubo eruptions of lahar and floods, the take-over of its management and operations by a new company, and the subsequent establishment of the Sweet Crystals sugar mill in the hinterlands of Porac. And the sentral looked more like a rusted relic of a long past industrial age, totally alien in a City of San Fernando bursting with prosperity and aspiring to be the habitat of human excellence in the near future.

Last week, at a solidarity forum in the city, came word on the hoped-for reinvention of the sentral.

On its 90th year of serving the province, Pampanga Sugar Development Co. (Pasudeco) plans to transform its 35-hectare property into a multi-use facility to be of greater relevance to the times and contribute more to the development of Pampanga.

“We would like to remake the old Pasudeco as the new center of San Fernando to make the city a nicer place to live and work in.”

So announced Michael Escaler, company chair and president, stressing, “We will not be guided by what is most profitable, but by what will be good for San Fernando.”

Adjacent to the Heroes Hall, the city hall annex, the Pasudeco property is planned to be developed for light industries, commercial enterprises, business offices, housing and parks.”

“We have been part of the history of the province. All our ancestors and the whole community benefitted from Pasudeco, so our generation, the direct beneficiaries want Pasudeco to give back to the community by reusing the area so we can make San Fernando a better place to live in,” Escaler was quoted as saying.

Now, I am back as the pasture boy, in awe of the sentral anew. Here’s hoping the chimneys will be preserved as heritage, as reminders of the sentral’s part in Kapampangan history.

SO IT has come to pass.

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