February 1, 2023

Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, Benguet province has learned to adjust.
With the economy slowly going back, the province’s resiliency has been put to test by natural calamities such as typhoons.
Looking back in 2021, these are other significant disasters that happened in the province.
While the country was spared from strong typhoons in 2020, last year has other plans with the coming in of Typhoon Maring affecting mostly parts of northern Luzon such as Benguet and its environs.
The typhoon has left the province with nine deaths and one missing during its onslaught on Oct. 11, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. 
Benguet hogged the headlines when the Telego siblings namely Nigel, eight years old; Butchok, 6; and Ayesha, 3, perished during a landslide that hit their house in Ambiong, La Trinidad while their parents survived. 
Kibungan also listed one casualty in 20-year-old June Perez Balangen, while his brother, Romy, 25, is missing up to now when he was swept away by rampaging river in Tacadang.
In Itogon, 32-year-old Cherrie Dillam Leo perished while her husband, Raygan, 35 sustained minor injuries. The other casualty was 80-year-old Colasa Tigwey of Simpa, Ampucao. The victims’ houses were buried due to soil erosion during the typhoon.
Meanwhile, a monstrous gridlock was experienced by thousands of commuters during the typhoon when the stretch of the Halsema Highway from Kms. 3 to 4 was blocked by debris due to flashflood.
Based on the joint inspection made by the local government unit, Office of the Civil Defense and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the mudflow was heavily attributed to the development site owned by the Pines City Doctors’ Hospital, Inc. at Sitio Cogcoga, Pico.    
La Trinidad filed before Regional Trial Court branch 10 has filed a petition for the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order and eventually a permanent protection order against PCDH for the protection of the environment in Sitio Cogcoga, Pico, and the Balili River.
The Department of Agriculture has also reported a total damage of P1.74 billion in the country’s agriculture affecting 56,718 farmers and fisherfolk in the Cordillera, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Mimaropa, Bicol Region, Western Visayas, and Socsksargen.
La Trinidad Municipal Agriculturist Fely Ticbaen said strawberry farmers were affected with the flooding at the strawberry farm.
Citing the extent of the damage of the typhoon to the province, Benguet caretaker Rep. Eric Yap urged the Senate to fast-track the approval of a measure creating the Department of Disaster Resilience.
 
Economic sabotage  
With the DA ensuring that the movement of vegetable cargo remained unhampered, it has greatly helped the vegetable industry in the province stay afloat during the pandemic. However, this year, the perennial problem on vegetable smuggling was resurrected to haunt the farmers, not only in Benguet but also the vegetable-producing towns of Mountain Province and Ifugao.
In September 2021, the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas Inc. has called out agencies about the entry of smuggled carrots and cabbages sold in Divisoria, Tondo, Metro Manila and other provinces in the country.
This resulted in the reduction of the volume of vegetables being ordered from farmers and traders from the region.
In 2007, the league also campaigned against the entry of smuggled vegetables in the local markets nationwide. Taking a sample of the imported carrots from China, the league had it tested with Benguet State University.
Results of the test on carrots from China showed the crop contained traces of formalin, which is the saturated solution of formaldehyde in water, used to preserve the vegetable. Also, upon boiling the samples, it didn’t soften as it should.  
With this, a joint task force was created composed of the Bureau of Customs, DA, Department of Trade and Industry, and Bureau of Internal Revenue to go against smugglers in various entry points in the country.
As the year ends, farmers also reported the illegal entry of strawberries from South Korea that flooded markets in Cebu.
If vegetable smuggling is left unresolved, the economy of Benguet and other neighboring towns will greatly suffer while countless families and individuals who are stakeholders in the vegetable industry will be impacted more than the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. – Ofelia C. Empian