February 3, 2023

BREAKING THE FOOD CHAIN

It has been over a year since restrictions on mobility have been imposed by the government but until today, the chain of delivery of essential goods, especially food, has not been perfected.
Vegetable farmers from the highlands, who have to pass through the Palispis-Aspiras Highway to reach the markets in various parts of Luzon were the recent ones affected by the border restrictions, particularly the requirement to present a negative RT-PCR test result imposed by the provincial government of La Union.
We understand that officials of La Union want to safeguard their constituents by making sure that whoever enters their territories are free of the Covid-19, but the decision to require even those who are passing through, vegetable delivery personnel especially, has gone overboard.
The uniform travel policy issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government-Inter-Agency Task Force is clear: an RT-PCR test result may be a requirement at the point of destination but is not necessary when moving across territories. Besides, the costs of having an RT-PCR test should have been considered to ease the burden of the farmers.
Since the implementation of the lockdown 13 months ago, the national government, through the DILG, Departments of Agriculture, and Trade and Industry have consistently said logistics containing food and other essentials, such as water and medical supplies and equipment, should have unhampered passage in border checkpoints.
A written directive from the IATF on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases was even issued for compliance of all concerned offices and local government units.
It baffles us then why the provincial government of La Union has decided to impose a “no-RT-PCR test, no entry” policy even for those passing through despite the uniform travel policy recently issued by the IATF.
This policy of La Union has been lifted immediately after concerned quarters intervened but its implementation, although momentary, adversely affected the food supply chain. We respect the prerogative of LGUs to implement border regulation policies but this should be in accordance with directives of the national government.
The inconvenience of getting stuck along the highway in La Union was only a fraction of what the provincial policy has brought. The graver impact was the delay in the delivery of food meant to be distributed in different parts of the country.
La Union is also a source of vegetables, fruits, seafood, and rice. Its officials know that any delay in delivery could disrupt the sequence of delivery from source to the market and eventually to the consumers.
During the time of former President Gloria Arroyo, farmers associations in the Cordillera have sought the help of the former president to allow unhampered transportation of highland products. This was to prevent wastage while in transit as highland vegetables are sensitive to humidity, as well as to facilitate the timely delivery of products not just in markets in the National Capital Region and the greater Manila area, but also so these could reach the ports, and reach markets in the Visayas and Mindanao.
In response, the DA, among other interventions, designated special lanes where vegetable delivery trucks may pass without having to go through the usual checks along the highways. Aside from minor issues on transportation, delivery has been made faster since then.
La Union’s effort at addressing cases of illegal entry to the province by those claiming that they are “passing through” but actually intend to stay longer should indeed be dealt with by applying procedures that involve thorough and strict screening of entrants but it should not be at the expense of those who are legitimately passing through the highway, which happen to traverse the province.
If there were those who misrepresent, the LGU should impose the penalties spelled out under the law.
La Union’s amendment of its directive is commendable. It shows that its officials listen to public clamor and respond accordingly. We also admire the fact that they put great effort in protecting their constituents and strictly implement protocols. However, we hope there will be no repeat of the incident in the future.
Prior to the declaration of the Cordillera as a separate region, La Union and the provinces in the highlands belonged in one region. We may now be separate in terms of territory but as neighbors, it does not hurt if we keep the lines of communication open.
This is how neighbors help one another even beyond borders.