A FRENCHMAN by the name of Yves Germaine Gaston, who first visited Negros in 1844, was one of those who helped shape the sugar industry as we know it. He brought with him the first sugarcane shoots.

Fr. Fernando Cuenca, an Augustinian Recollect friar, on the other hand, arrived in the Philippines in 1848. He was immediately dispatched to the island of Negros. He took the spiritual administration of Minuluan (now Talisay).

Fray Fernando also helped shape the sugar industry although sugarcane was already being cultivated in Negros. He identified the areas in Negros that would be fit for the expansion of the sugar industry in the island. He imported "patdan" (cane tops for planting) from other places and distributed them among the different towns of Negros.

Fr. Cuennca was a close associate of the father of the Philippine sugarcane industry, Nicholas Loney. He and other Recollect priests would act as guarantors of the loan for the landowners of Negros to get their “sugar loans.”

From this time on, the sugar industry in Negros took a bold step and became the major industry of the island. Sugar centrals were built to mechanically process the sugar and big yields were produced. “Sugarlandia” soon became the second name of Negros. The island was not declared as the sugar bowl but in the early years, Negros surpassed other provinces in terms of sugar production.

The industry placed the island on the map. Famous Negrenses became prominent people in all sectors. People in Manila would even look up to the Negrenses. In other words, the early and the middle era of the sugar industry was a boom in the province. However, this gained the eyes of many politicians and capitalists in Manila. They would like to plunge into the economic prosperity of the island. Thus, they came in with all their capital and entered an industry that they do not understand but would only see the profit in it. Thus, the decline of the sugar industry and the slow death of the island.

But, still, despite the slow decay of the industry because of so many political, economic, social, industrial, and environmental challenges, the Negros sugar industry stands today as a leading industry on the island.

The only great question bothering us today is the economics of sugar. Why is the price of sugar in the world market low, while the price in our local markets is increasing? This is a big irony -- a paradox. We should enjoy the fruits of our very own industry. Both the planters and the workers are now clamoring for the low returns of the sugar industry. The world benefits from our product and not us. Why?

Where is the sweet gold in sugar? Don’t we produce sugar for ourselves? Are our products only for foreign and world market consumers? These are the questions that keep boggling my comical mind.

Anyway, what we need today are not just laws and resolutions, we need actions. It is already a public knowledge that most of our laws have no teeth and are too wordy, that they could always be disputed. On the sidelights about laws in the Philippines, they are beautiful to read but hard to implement. We need to act quickly to save the industry from further decay.

Another very important thing that we should do is to share the fruits of the industry with everyone in an equitable mode. Planters should take care of their laborers and laborers should also care for the planter. It is in this symbiotic relationship that we could resurrect the glory days of our island.