VEGETABLE SMUGGLING AS A LITMUS TEST FOR BENGUET BETS
While it is easy to be swayed either way in the usual battle of personalities every campaign period during elections of new government officials, we remain hopeful that voters will gauge candidates vying for positions based on best solutions each of them lay down for pressing issues and concerns once they get elected.
In the case of Benguet, voters should pay close attention on which platform will finally put an end to the decades-old problem on vegetable smuggling.It is unfortunate that a province that supplies majority of the country’s requirements for temperate crops remains besieged with the same old dilemma which instead of being solved only became blatant than ever in spite of it being constantly used as a campaign issue that candidates vow to address every election.
It doesn’t help when even officials of Benguet and concerned government agencies acknowledge that the root of the problem lies on anomalies taking place at the ports of entry and involvement of alleged untouchable officials in the entry of imported vegetables without undergoing proper procedure, the problem is still unsolved.
While there had been reports of millions worth of smuggled vegetables confiscated by the Bureau of Customs periodically, the deed persists. Unlike before when illegal goods would clandestinely find its way to the markets, these are now sold without having been paid with proper taxes any time of the day, to the detriment of local vegetable suppliers, and the government itself which loses out in revenue collections.
Rampant vegetable smuggling during the term of a previous Benguet leader was kept at bay when a representative from the provincial government would be stationed in Metro Manila markets to monitor smuggling and coordinated with private groups representing producers and traders of agricultural products, who would then report on entry of smuggled vegetables, and will lead authorities to inspect cold storages and markets and the Bureau of Customs to file charges.
This coordination, however, was not sustained through changes in local leadership, reason why a group of Benguet farmers is now appealing that an anti-smuggling task force be formed and institutionalized with strong representation of the province and private sector engaged in agricultural trade.
At the moment, farmers claim an average loss of 30 percent from their income due to the entry of smuggled carrots alone equivalent to P2.5 million a day.
We support the creation of the task force, but this we are afraid will not guarantee smuggling will stop. As long as ports are left unguarded, as long as authorities who are supposed to enforce laws are in cahoots with importers, and as long as there are untouchables in government benefitting from this illegal practice, local farmers will continue to suffer, the products of an important industry will always be put to waste, and the culture of corruption will always exist.
We challenge candidates running for elective positions in Benguet and its voters to make a difference when they go out to vote on May 9. Let the upcoming political exercise be a contest of who among those offering themselves to lead have what it takes to save the province’s embattled industry.
With campaigning for the elections in full swing, we remind candidates vying for respective posts on the importance of this year’s political exercise, and for voters to realize that we only get the government we deserve by the way we choose our leaders.
Coming off from two devastating years of a still raging pandemic, there is no better time to do away with the traditional battle of personalities, and instead focus on which agenda would improve our current state than this coming national and local elections.