(May 07, 2012 to September 30, 2012)

intro_pic-tabakoCruising along the countryside of Ilocos Norte gives a view of the lush green tobacco fields. Tobacco has been one of the cash crops of Ilocos region since the Spanish colonization. As an industry it has been a major force in the economic development of Region I.

Spanish galleons bringing treasures and commodities to the Philippines in the early part of the 18th century brought along tobacco seeds. Through these colonizers the use of tobacco was introduced in the country. As the soil and climate in Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley were observed as ideal for growing tobacco, the Spaniards saw the potential of getting rich and gaining revenue for the Spanish government in the Philippines. They started commercializing the growing of tobacco and established the Tobacco Monopoly in 1782, giving them full control of the tobacco industry. Filipinos, especially the Ilocano farmers, were forced to grow tobacco. The Spaniards became demanding and abusive creating hostility which escalated into rebellion. The tobacco monopoly was abolished by King Alfonzo XII in 1882. Once again tobacco growing became a free enterprise.

In the Aurora plaza of Laoag City, proudly stands an obelisque, a monument erected in 1882, as a gesture of thanksgiving to King Alfonzo XII for abolishing the tobacco monopoly. This monument is symbolic of the courage of the Ilocanos in standing up to resist foreign domination.

Tobacco is grown in small plots by individual farmers with the help of the members of their families sharing in the task during the entire course of tobacco planting. Sometimes growing tobacco is a teamwork shared among farmers within neighboring farms. Customs and traditional rituals are followed in the belief that they hold the promise of abundant yield of good crops. During the Spanish Tobacco Monopoly, tobacco was stored in warehouses like the Tabacalera building in Laoag City, built in the 19th century. The building was well preserved as one of our treasured historical structures and now stands as Museo Ilocos Norte showcasing our historical and traditional Ilocos Norte culture.

The native tobacco is air-cured, ripening the leaves to a reddish brown color. It is called tatabakuen or moscada (cigar or chewing tobacco type) produced mainly for domestic consumption.

Palaspas – the first three leaves from the base of the native tobacco plant.
Seconda – the fourth and fifth leaves next to the palaspas.
Nagtapaya – the sixth and seventh leaves next to the segunda.
Untok – the eighth to 12th leaves next to the nagtapaya, stronger in taste than the other leaves. These leaves are also used for ngalngal (chewing) mixed with mamaen (betel nut).


  1. PANAG-PÁRUTING (Seed Preparation) – The tobacco seeds wrapped in cloth are soaked in water for 2 days then hung until they sprout. This is done in the month of November.
  2. PANAG-SIMILYÁ (Sowing) – The sprouted seeds are mixed in ashes, fertilizer and insecticide, then sowed in the prepared seedbeds.
  3. PANAG-MULÁ (Transplanting) – The one-month-old seedlings are uprooted from the seedbed and planted in the prepared field. The distance between seedlings is 30 to 35 centimeters. Dead plants are replaced with healthy seedlings called panagsugot.
  4. PANAG-IMÚRI (Topping) – When the 12th leaf appears, the plants are topped leaving only 12 leaves per plant to promote the development of larger and more lush leaves.
  5. PANAG-GÁTUD (Harvesting) – Harvesting starts February when palaspas ripen, approximately two months after transplanting and every week until the untok are harvested.
  6. PANAG-TÁLAP-TÁP – The top portion of the midrib is sliced off to hasten the drying of the midribs and leaves.
  7. PANAG-TUDÓK (Stringing) – 100 leaves are strung one by one through the tudok.
  8. PANAG-IDÁYDAY (Curing) – When all the leaves are strung, they are hung on badungan (bamboo framework) under the sun for three days, then transferred to the shed until the leaves and midribs are almost dry.
  9. PANAG-GUR-ÓN (Bundling) – The dried tobacco leaves are removed from the tudok. One hundred dried leaves are strung together with banban (fine strips of bamboo) called manus. The manus are packed inside a box and placed in the sarusar until the color turns to chocolate brown, and loss of moisture is prevented.

Virginia tobacco when flue-cured turns green leaves to a yellow color. It is the most popular tobacco variety planted for commercial purposes.


  1. PANAG-GÁTUD (Harvesting) – Mature leaves are harvested from tobacco plants then transferred to the ramira (shed), where they are prepared for curing.
  2. PANAG-IBÁDAY (Tying) / PANAG-TUDÓK (Stringing)
    • PANAG-IBÁDAY – The harvested palaspas or untok leaves are tied to the bangkil/atipil (kind of slim bamboo).
    • PANAG-TUDÓK – The harvested kawad are strung one by one into the tudok (thin bamboo stick) through the top midrib then suspended on the bangkil/atipil.
  3. PANAG-IDÁYDAY (Hanging) – The completed tudok will be hung in the sadayan (bamboo poles for hanging) in the pugon (furnace). These are bamboo framework set up like clotheslines.
  4. PANÁG-LUTO (Flue-curing) – The pugon is fueled by wood to begin the curing.
    a)  1st day – coloring or yellowing at temperature 30 to 35 degrees
    b)  2nd and 3rd day – pitching at temperature 50 to 60 degrees
    c)  4th day – scorching/drying at temperature 70 to 90 degrees
    d)  When leaves are dry, barn is opened and the fire is removed to cool and soften the tobacco leaves for safe handling.
  5. PANAG-GUR-ÓN (Bundling) – About 5 tudok of leaves are packed one on top of the other in a wooden box with one side open for the handles of the tudok. When the leaves are neatly compressed with the wooden top of the wooden box, the handles of the tudok are pulled out. Five tudok of tobacco leaves are bundled into paggur-unan to make one uron. The uron is kept in a sack or box to keep the moisture. Tobacco is ready for market.


  1. Sowing starts during kabus (the date must have a circle portion, example (6, 8, 9, 10 etc.) and falls on any day except Tuesday or Friday so as to make them produce perfect or better in quality.
  2. Batac farmers pal-idan (air fans) these seedlings by using their hats or winnower during late afternoon, believing that the small and newly developed leaves will grow faster.
  3. One common practice is the dressing of a chicken. This is done before the farmer starts to transplant his seedlings. Here, he notes the size of the bile of the chicken. The big bile is indicative of good harvest and small bile means a poor harvest.
  4. In the case of native type (cigar or chewing tobacco type of tobacco), before the farmer proceeds to the field and starts transplanting or even while he is transplanting, he chews any kind of sweet food, particularly molasses so that the leaves will not be bitter but delicious and sweet.
  5. In contrast, some Ilocanos like the Bacarreños do not allow eating while transplanting. A farmer in Bacarra believes that eating, particularly bread in the field causes worms and other insects to feed on their plants, thus, it should be avoided.
  6. Planters are not allowed to play with their planting materials so that crickets, ants, worms and other insects will not attack the area planted, destroying or eating their plants.
  7. In San Nicolas, the farmer starts transplanting on Wednesday or any day except Lunes (Monday) or Martes (Tuesday). Lunes or Lunas (worn out) means bad luck while Martes which sounds like mamar-murder (being killed), augurs bad luck.
  8. While planting the cigarette type tobacco (Virginia), the farmer should not smoke to avoid bitterness of the leaves.
  9. In San Nicolas, for example, when worms attack the plants, the farmers should not pis-it (crush) the worms, but instead, he throws them away from the area or feed them to chicken. Crushing or killing worms are believed to cause the rampant attack of more worms on the plants.
  10. Another way of controlling worms in Bacarra and Batac is for the first person who removes the worms in the area planted with the tobacco, to keep from making noise or he should remain silent. It is believed that the noise created will be heard by the other worms; hence, they attack the area rampantly. Worms are picked off from the plants one by one.
  11. In San Nicolas, a farmer believes that wearing any bright-colored dress, preferably white, during the first time of panag-arun (burning the firewood in the barn), makes the leaves of the tobacco always bright and spotless.
  12. When planting the native tobacco, some farmers chew complete set of mamaen (betel nut, untok native tobacco leaves, lime and betel leaves) and spit on the leaves of the first seedlings as soon as this is transplanted. This is believed to influence the plant to produce scaly, reddish brown leaves (agpalpalakak) which are the marks of good quality tobacco.

Chronology of the History of the Tobacco Industry in Ilocos Norte
1782 – Spanish galleons bringing treasures and commodities to the Philippines in the early part of the 18th century brought along tobacco seeds. They started commercializing the growing of tobacco and established the Tobacco Monopoly in 1782.
1785 – Tobacco Monopoly, established in 1782, is extended by Governor Jose Basco y Vargas to Ilocos and Cagayan [de Jesus]
1788 – Revolt breaks out in Laoag against tobacco monopoly abuses. More than 1,000 rebels are pacified through the intervention of the parish priest of Batac, Fray Pedro Blaquier (later bishop of Nueva Segobia)
1806 – Laoag residents rise up in arms against abuses in the collecting of taxes on tobacco and wine; convento and other houses are burned. Drums are used to warn the populace against fire [de los Reyes]
1865 – Currimao becomes an intermediate port upon the inauguration of the trade link between Manila and Aparri operated by the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas  [Millan]
1867 – Residents of Batac protest the arrogance and iniquities of some Spaniards in the buying and selling of tobacco. (A certain Genario was carried by his arms and legs to the plaza and would have been slain by the mob were it not for the timely intervention of a lieutenant of the Guardia Civil)[Cadiz]
1878 – Tabacalera is erected in 1878 and known as the Tabacalera Building. This edifice was originally designed as the Administrative Center of the Tobacco Monopoly in Ilocos Norte during the reign of Spain over the Philippine Islands.
1882 – A monument is erected in Laoag to celebrate the end of the Tobacco Monopoly, abolished by decree on 25 June 1880 [de Jesus, NHI]
1913 – An account on Piddig mentions the manufacture of small clay pipes for cigar and cigarette holders. The sinisirilo resembles the face of a man; the siquemquem, the human hand. [Scheans]
2012 – For four decades, tobacco continues to dominate the agricultural, economic, social and political life in the regions growing it, making the tobacco industry a major force in the economic development of Ilocos especially Region I where Native tobacco and  flue-cured or Virginia tobacco are grown. Listed below are Ilocos Norte towns where tobacco is still grown

Tobacco Farmers in Ilocos Norte

Bacarra – 35
Badoc – 838
Banna – 412
Batac – 917
Currimao – 57
Dingras – 337
Marcos – 200
Nueva Era – 88
Paoay – 17
Pasuquin – 74
Piddig – 288
Pinili – 1,095
San Nicolas – 74
Sarrat – 110
Solsona – 37
Vintar – 229

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