Until the mid 1990s, I remember seeing salt pyramids lined up along the salt beds on my way home to Las Piñas.
Las Piñas City was once dubbed the “Salt bed of the Philippines,” concentrated in Barangay Pulanglupa where I now reside.
The official web site of Las Piñas City narrated the history of its salt industry. In the 18th century, salt-making technology using solar dry beds was introduced to Las Piñas, then a known fishing village. Over time, hundreds of hectares surrounding the old town were converted into salt beds known as “irasan.”
Later, clay tiles or gibak were brought down from as far away as Vigan to line the salt beds. This prevented the salt from coming into contact with the ground and allowed the salt to become white.
Solar evaporation method is the oldest method of salt production. This is ideal in warm climates as evaporation rates exceed precipitation rates. This method retains ions such as chloride, sodium, sulfate, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which are abundant in salt water.
During harvest time, there were many small pyramids of white crystals scattered in the city that produced 40-50 kilos of rock salt per day.
The salt was graded and classified as tertia, segunda and primera.
Las Piñas was most known for its primera or first-class salt used to flavor fine dishes.
Tertia salt had the most impurities, the darkest color and was used with dry ice to preserve ice cream. Segunda salt was used to preserve fresh fish.
Unfortunately, the salt beds became casualties of urbanization.
The need for more affordable housing due to increasing population resulted to the conversion of many of the salt beds into residential subdivisions.
As of 2020, the population of Las Piñas City is estimated at 606,293, where 32,485 are from Pulanglupa.
Pollution from industrial and domestic sewerage draining into Manila Bay destroyed the pristine waters that had been the salt industry’s primary ingredient.
Land developments such as bay area reclamation and Coastal Road construction disrupted salt production.
The dredging and construction work prevented fishermen from going out to sea. Bulk of the salt produced began falling into the lower priced segunda and tertia categories.
Other large salt producers also converted their areas into fishponds and residential and commercial properties in order to create profit avenues.
Salt imported from other countries like China and India were also offered at lower prices.
Large salt farms in Cavite, Las Piñas, and Bulacan were forced to close down due to seasonal pattern changes caused by climate change, along with the salt producers’ reliance and use of old production methods.
While the Philippines has one of the longest shorelines in the world, covering 36,000 kilometers, the country now resorts to salt importation.
The Department of Agriculture noted that the Philippines imports about 550,000 metric tons of salt every year, or approximately 93 percent of the country’s salt requirement.
The weakening of the salt industry is partly attributed to the passage of RA 8172 or the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN) law passed in 1995, which requires all producers of food-grade salt to iodize the salt that they produce, manufacture, import, trade or distribute for human and animal consumption.
The law seeks to reinforce the advocacy in battling the problem of micronutrient deficiencies, specifically, iodine deficiency disorders (IDD).
Goiter is one of the most common IDD, which is the irregular growth of thyroid gland. People with goiter often have an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can lead to the appearance of a mass or swelling of the neck.
All food manufacturers and processors using food-grade salt are also required to use iodized salt in the processing of their products.
All food outlets, restaurants, and stores are also mandated to make available to customers only iodized salt in their establishment.
The Department of Trade and Industry is required to provide the machine to incorporate iodine in the salt being produced, but it failed to comply, resulting in the slow death of the salt industry.
The limited development, including the lack of innovation and interventions, as well as low enterprise and investment opportunities, also led to the decrease in salt output.
ASIN Law was seen limiting innovations on the type of salt that will fit the needs of a product, which leads to the loss of some nutrients during processing.
With this, small local salt farmers are unable to compete with large salt producers in the global market.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail email@example.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.
Image credits: BusinessMirror/Nonie Reyes