Ma-ao Sugar Central
Text written by Ar. Armando Arciaga III AABHD of the National Museum of the Philippines
The Ma-ao Sugar Central was founded in the early 1900s, one of the six “bank centrals”, which were distinguished sugar mill operations with the highest production yields within the Negros region that received financing from the Philippine National Bank. It was formally established in 1918, with a building period that followed from 1919 to 1920, covering a vastly sprawling land area of around 56 hectares (around give hundred and sixty thousand square meters). At its prime, the operations of the Central had a milling capacity of 1,500 of sugar produce per day, thus taking the crown as the largest capacity bank sugar central in the Philippines.
Furthermore, at the incorporation and organization of the Ma-ao Sugar Central, one of its founders has been noted to be Captain Juan Anacieto Araneta, a leader of the Negros Revolution and a pioneering sugar farmer. The Central remained in operation past the liberation of the Philippines from colonial rule, continuing into a decline by 1982, the operation eventually fell into disuse, and came to a halt in 1994.
The Central has maintained its hectarage after closure, and the architecturally significant historic buildings comprising the Property are intact. A majority of its primary and ancillary support structures show aesthetic and design elements characteristic of American colonial architecture, such as the main administration building and the clinic facility. The industrial buildings of the sugar mill factory, including the iconic triad of steam chimneys visible over the horizon of the sugar central’s vicinity, remained preserved in medias res, acting as veritable time capsules to the heyday of Negros sugar production.
The administration building is a two-storey single detached structure that served as the central office of the milling operations. It is was made of reinforced concrete as was typical of the American colonial period. Its ground floor served as offices of the Central, while its upper floor served as a residence for the manager of the sugar mill. The layout of the structure is such that the upper floor is accessible by a single exterior staircase leading from the ground floor entrance to an upper terrace, done to provide a clear separation from the office spaces of the lower floors to the residential areas of the upper.
Significant design details such as neoclassical columns flank the entrance porte-cochere to the mansion. Further ornamentations were made to the cornices and embellishments of the building. In the living and dining areas of the residence, the walls are decorated with angular geometric patterns.
In terms of factory-proper structures, the chemical laboratory, located at the front of the industrial complex, is a notable architectural diamond-in-the-rough. The chemical laboratory is a single storey structure of wood and concrete construction, but most note-worthy regarding the building is that a majority of its furniture, fixtures, and appurtenances remained in-situ since the halting of the sugar mill operations in the late 1990s.
Bottles of chemical solutions and various other fluids, apparatuses, and materials still occupy work tables and desks. Some laboratory equipment still occupies their original placements. This preservation of the original, functional content of the laboratory in tandem with the structural integrity of the building as a whole presents a truly unique historical significance and teaching potential.
Another distinct feature of the Central are the steam chimneys of the factory proper. The chimneys are a triad of towers that serve as a landmark to the site, being a dominant feature of the skyline around the vicinity of the sugar central and its surrounding barangay. While no longer in use, the structural placemaking of the chimneys are a monument to the grandiosity and extent of the production yield of the sugar central.
As a whole, the Ma-ao Sugar Central stands as a monument to the industry of the Negrense people, their heritage, culture, and unique contributions to the history of the Philippines. It represents a close link with the history of the Negros region, and in turn, that of the entire country. While defunct, the structures of the Central maintain a significant, intrinsic historical value, and with current developments regarding the property, it is with hope that a balance will be struck to preserve these architectural milestones of the past.