March 3, 2024

In light of the economic threat posed by smuggling of agricultural products into the country, stakeholders of the vegetable industry in the Cordillera are requesting for the revival of the Anti-Smuggling Task Force.

Augusta Balanoy, representing the farmers and traders during the highland vegetable industry dialogue in La Trinidad, Benguet on Jan. 17, requested representatives from the concerned national government agencies of the urgency to revive the task force.

Balanoy, spokesperson of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, Inc., said the revival of the task force is the immediate solution to help curb the rampant smuggling of vegetables at the different markets in the country.

Recently, smuggled carrots and potatoes marked with “ABC Baguio” were seen flooding the Metro Manila markets.

The league said the vegetables were not from Benguet and blamed the smuggled vegetables as the cause of the decline in sales of highland farmers last December.

Based on the league’s data, around seven to eight million kilograms of vegetables were not purchased from Dec. 20 to 30 causing an estimated loss of P210 to P240 million.

Some of the buyers had unpaid purchases to farmers and traders last December that would reach millions, she said.

During the time of the late Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan, Sr. he helped in the creation of the inter-agency task force with the Bureau of Customs, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, among other agencies that then actively monitored and acted against agricultural smuggling.

“There are reports reaching us about smuggled vegetables and we are at a loss on what to do, on where to forward these reports from concerned stakeholders in the various markets of our vegetable produce,” she said.

With the task force, Balanoy said there would be constant anti-smuggling operations and the visibility of the police and authorities would thwart smugglers from brazenly operating.

“It has been done before, that’s why we are telling our experiences. At least natatakot sila kapag may operation; we cannot wait and not do something and let smuggled vegetables flood our markets causing losses to our vegetable industry,” she said.

Recently, the group of Balanoy received a tip that a trucker planned to bring in 40 tons of potatoes from Laguna. It raised a red flag on the league’s end, as they know there are no potatoes grown in Laguna. They suspect that the potatoes were smuggled and the truckers are planning to bring it to Benguet to repack it and sell it to Manila, passing it off as local produce.

In response, representatives from the DA Inspectorate and Enforcement and BOC stated they will forward the stakeholders’ concerns to their superiors at the central office for appropriate action. – Ofelia C. Empian