Bittersweet Memories of Maao Sugar Central

The old Maao Sugar Central Mill--now silent

It was MassKara weekend in Bacólod City in Negros Occidental and I was about to cover it. However, I prefer to go the other way around than the usual Talisay-Silay-Victorias route which tourists would flock before MassKara higlight. Good thing though, Rain Varela, a great friend of mine was glad to tour me in his hometown, this time down south—at Bago City. The city is the bailiwick of the Araneta clan, one of the most influential clans in the Philippines, and within it lies what was once the pulsating sugar central of Ma-ao.

Bittersweet Memories of Maao Sugar Central Slideshow: HabagatCentral.com’s trip from Cavite, Luzon, Philippines to Maao Central (near Bacolod, Negros) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Bacolod slideshow. Take your travel photos and make a slideshow for free.
No steam from chimneys of Maao
Sugar Central Mill and Steamer

Ma-ao Sugar Central, or Maao Central for short, is an hour and a half drive from Bacolod City. Located approximately 40 kilometers away from the capital city, 20 kilometers from Bago, Ma-ao Central was once a booming agro-industrial estate was founded by the Araneta clan, notably by Don Juan himself, the general that stood up against the Spanish colonizers in 1898. It is also one of the oldest sugar milling areas in the province of Negros Occidental.

The trees embrace each other
Maao Central's Chapel

During its heydays, the central was a bustling city on its own right. Chugging old iron dinosaurs come in and out of the mill coming from hectares of sugar plantation, the chimneys vent out steam and smoke, the sweet smell of muscovado fills up the air and the community was as vibrant as a busy street. Maao Central has its own church, own housing for its staff, own market, own bank, park and recreational facilities and all others. Maao’s workforce enjoys privileges such as housing, free scholarship for their children, and several other perks. Some would even say that Maao can even become an independent town on its own.

Memoirs of the glory days have been written by an unknown blogger here where he spent his days of what was then a thriving Maao Central.

Balay Daku (The Big House) - One of Araneta clan's Ancestral Houses
It was once the residence of the sugar barons of Bago

On one side of the central is one of the ancestral houses of the Araneta Clan, the “Balay Dakû” or “The Big House.” It has been a witness on the history of the family and the sugar central that they manage. The two storey home is made of concrete built with columns and a bit of European accent, enough to be dominant in the Central community, as it faces the Maao Sugar Mill just a few meters away.

The old gate of Maao Central

The sugar mills rolled on as the seasons of tiempo muerto and milling-planting goes on and on. However, several years ago, Maao Central ceased to operate. Some blamed on the effects of the sugarcane economy as it is not as profitable as it was. However, there is another story that the ones who were supposed to manage the sugar central have shifted its focus into their urban development business, leaving the heirloom on its downward spiral. One of the largest and oldest sugar centrals in Negros Occidental—just died. I was even surprised that Maao Central ceased to function, for I thought it was still operating just like the other sugar centrals in the province.

One of the equipment of sugar cane mills
Maao Sugar Mill, fading away

Today, Maao Central is like a silent barrio in a far flung area, smacked in the middle of the sugarcane plantations. The steel sugar mill and chimneys still stands, yet it is no longer busy and noisy. The old railroad tracks disappeared gradually—perhaps to the looters. The iron dinosaurs were brought to extinction. The community is no longer buzzing with business, only that tranquil provincial calm prevails. Houses have deteriorated over time and elements, and the great Balay Daku stands mute as a reminder of its fortunes and glorious days.

Goats are the new occupants of the central—they’re everywhere! Carabaos roam and people who were either former workers of the central, or new migrants, go on with their everyday life—without the humming noise of the mills and the trains.

Kanding nga may bangs - The new occupants

Yet hope lingers. Rumors have it that Maao Central will be revived once more. Not as a sugar central that it was, but an ethanol production plant. Also, there have been reports that someone from Manila has already purchased the old sugar central. Hence, people may see the steam from the mill’s skyline rise up again.

Sugarcane truck at Maao - Sugar is still the lifeblood of Negros Occidental

Maao Central still stands silent for now. A witness of the way Negros Occidental was, the economy, society and its bittersweet stories and histories.

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Getting there and out of Maao Central

Mini-bus bound for Maao

Going there is as easy as pie. Take a Roadstar or Jetstar Mini Bus at Bacolod City’s Libertad Market’s South Terminal. These buses have a sign “Maao” on their windshield. It can get crowded especially on weekends and milling seasons. Fare costs more or less P40 (US$1) for an hour and a half trip that would pass by downtown Bago City. Please take note that Barrio Maao is different from Maao Central. Have the conductor remind you to disembark at “Central.”


View Bacolod City to Maao Route in a larger map

Bernardo Arellano III

Berniemack Arellano, is the blogger behind HabagatCentral and ViajeroFilipino. A simple and boring guy who wants to go amok whenever he’s being prevented going somewhere else. Traveler, Blogger, Food Lover, Proud Pinoy, Mexiphile, Isko ng Bayan, Passion with History and Urban Planning, FSX Pilot and future professional cartographer Since birth, he has been traveling due to the transient nature of the work of the father: NPA for short (no permanent address) or a nomad. Prefers to do more than just sightseeing, but experience anything local--from food, festivals, cities, culture, heritage and more.

  • Enrique Gonzaga

    I ilke this. I shared this and thank ou so much for writing about Maao. My heart bleeds when I reminisce the good times we had in Maao Central when we were still young and was carefree and onlt thought of the vacations to be with cousins, Lolos and Lolas, Uncles and Aunts and the endless stream of “happy” people who lived in Maao Central. Life was so good then but you are right. Somewhere somehow Maao will rise and it will hsppen because of the people who loved it and nothing or no one else.

  • http://www.habagatcentral.com Berniemack Arellano

    You’re welcome Sir Enrique! Anytime. :)

  • http://maaocentral heidee locsin

    yes i heard that about the story of my grandma and grandpa when i was little girl and i went that place is busy and noise everyday,is very sad i hope one day they operat again to make the maao central busy day again .

  • Edna Berdin

    Yes balay daku really played a big part in our lives and molded me of what i am today, a good cook and baker they say. I have the tastebud and the sense of smell of my father Tay Bigboy, who was the kusinero of balay daku. And the influence of the great baker, ninay Mila Lacson, ninay Emily Gonzaga de Ramos and inday Jong Araneta. The undying banana cake of ninay Pinang Taño, the must have baked polvoron of inday eca gonzaga and the melt in the mouth tortitas of the bedayos. I just miss those days when central ma ao was still alive and bustling.

  • JOEMIL TORRES BICO

    those were the days that i really miss a lot in central ma-ao. sg time nila ni lolo Munding,lolo Mileo, lolo Bildong Torres,, sila man ni  lolo Jong delos Reyes kag lolo Charles Alvarez , sadya kaayo ang ila grupo..especially the town fiesta of Immaculate Concepcion,layo sa iban nga fiesta, sadya kaayo, kag kon bday ni Baby Araneta or lola Jong or lola Norma Araneta naga harana pa kami , sadya na may pamahaw pa., t pasauton ko na nila ni lola eca o lola corrine dayon, para ma lipay man ang tanan labi nagid ang mga ka tigulangan, silinga nila sin-o na , sino pa apo ni manong munding ehh.
    I really miss those days , if i could only turn back the clock i will…through the test of time, for good times & bad times proud gid ko nga taga CENTRAL MA-AO AKO!!!!!!!

  • Estong Araneta Cordova

    i miss my hometown