The mention of sugar barons in the Philippine context and their supposed immense sway over state protectionist policies — and this mention is incredulously taking place in the 21st century of apps and Elon Musk and personalized submarines — is the sloppiest form of sloppy journalism and the stupidest of clueless punditry. "Sugar barons," like those multinational banana corporations that held sway over Latin American politics and economy during the time of martyr-bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, indeed, have an insidious ring, a throwback to the old feudal days of abusive and all-powerful agricultural overlords above and their workers/serfs below.

But the simple truth is this: the sugar barons of punditry's feverish imaginings no longer exist, having become a prey to existential ravages that are now pushing the entire sugar industry to the same path of extinction.

If you know your basic facts on sugar and things agriculture, you are fully aware of some sectoral verities.

Number 1: Sugar barons, truly spoiled and wealthy and politically powerful up to the mid-20th century, were rudely jolted by an event in 1974, the year that marked the lapse of the Laurel-Langley Agreement, the trade pact that gave preferential prices and export quotas for Philippine sugar in the US market. The year 1975 was the start of the sugar apocalypse. Refined sugar with nowhere to go because of drastic cuts in US imports from the Philippines began filling up private warehouses, Customs bonded warehouses and other forms of silos. The excess was just left to the elements in swimming pools of the sugar haciendas. (It was also the year the sugar barons started cutting down on their orders of Rolls Royces and Bentleys.)

Number 2: The sugar planters big and small considered involvement of the government in their affairs ridiculous. Before the termination of Laurel-Langley, a 5-hectare sugar farm yielded enough to send five kids to universities in Manila. The proceeds fertilized the farms, funded the search for new sugar technologies and modern agricultural innovations. The government, from the Commonwealth period to the lapse of the trade agreement in 1974, was irrelevant to the sugar industry and the sugar planters big and small.

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Example of this innovation was when Ninoy Aquino was asked by his father-in-law to modernize the sugar farms at Hacienda Luisita. Ninoy, ever the visionary, did not ask for government support. He commissioned Israeli experts to set up drip irrigation and maximize water and fertilizer usage at the sugar farms, thus transforming the Luisita sugar lands into one of the most productive in the country. Ninoy was exposed early on to farming, but his grandfather gave away their 200 hectares of rice lands in Murcia, Tarlac, and elsewhere to their tenants, thus making the Aquino family ex-landlords. (And to those red-tagging Ninoy, that grandfather of his, Servillano Aquino, bears the name of a major army camp, Camp Aquino in Tarlac, because he was a soldier who fought for his country. Tags and labels are easy to pin on people who cannot defend themselves like Ninoy, but reality and facts are a different matter. History cannot be tsismis. The bias of history is for the truth. Ninoy was in such a hurry to grow up — at 17 years old he was covering the Korean War for The Manila Times — and that deprived him of the chance to seriously study Marxism.)

Number 3: The government and official state support, which were non-existent to the sugar people before 1974, were so underwhelming that they failed to adjust to the requirements of the tectonic meltdown of the sugar sector after the lapse of the Laurel-Langley Agreement. Because the sugar sector was so rich and empowered and innovative up to 1974, the government and the state agricultural agencies were totally unprepared for the collapse that resulted from the termination of the agreement. No policies and tools were available to the government to cope with the multiple woes brought about by the lapse of the Laurel-Langley.

Number 4: The then state-owned and -operated Philippine National Bank (PNB) opened up loan windows to the embattled sugar industry, the financial rescue available to the industry after the lapse of the trade agreement. The barely profitable farms and mills almost bled the PNB dry. The change of government in 1986 put private banker Ed Espiritu in charge of the PNB, and Espiritu revived the about-to-collapse bank, mostly saddled by bad sugar accounts.

Number 5: The political power of the sugar barons during their heyday (before the lapse of the Laurel-Langley Agreement) was true. But the last powerful post held by a sugar industry-supported politician was the one held by the late Fernando "Toto Nanding" Lopez of Iloilo, the vice president of Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. who had a falling out with the Marcoses. That was in the mid-1960s.

Also true. During the heyday of the sugar industry, the years before 1974, the Negrense/Ilonggo bloc held more Senate seats than any other region in the country, except for Rizal/Manila region. But names like Oscar Ledesma, a sugar baron, soon disappeared from the Senate's roll. The latter-day Ilonggos in the Senate, Franklin Drilon and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, were unconnected to the sugar industry.

If you know your sugar history, or if you are from a province with a long sugar history like mine — Pampanga — you fully know that only tariff protection and the PNB loans were what the government offered to the embattled sector after the lapse of the trade pact. Nothing more, nothing less. And that the year 1975 was the start of the slow and agonizing decline of the wealth and political power of the sugar barons. Had the sugar industry been fully supported by state-sponsored strategic programs after the lapse of the Laurel-Langley in 1974, it could have survived.

In my province, I wrote about this earlier, the sugar industry is gasping for its last breath. We used to have three sugar mills. The historic two sugar centrals, Pasudeco and Pasumil, are now nothing but memories. Pasudeco is now a mixed-used development called The Capitol and is owned by the Megaworld real estate giant. Pasumil is now a residential area. The last one is still standing in Planas, Porac town, but was damaged, and is beyond repair, by the Earth Day quake of not too long ago.

The extinction of the sugar barons came before the demise of typewriters and telegrams, that fateful day the typewriters were pulled out from the newsrooms for good and the last day Western Union sent out its last telegram. Sloppy journalism and clueless punditry just love invoking pampered "sugar barons" because pinpointing the true bad actors in the current sugar mess requires some tough work, not reliance on tired memes and anecdotes.