Benguet vegetable producers protest ‘brazen’ smuggling

From the markets of Metro Manila, Cebu, and Cagayan De Oro last year, smuggled carrots now flood markets all over the country, including Sariaya in Quezon province and Urdaneta in Pangasinan

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — The Duterte government plays deaf to appeals by vegetable farmers and traders to crack down on smuggling activities that endanger local livelihood, Benguet protesters charged during a Valentine’s Day protest.

A unity statement signed by around 250 vegetable farmers who sell produce at the La Trinidad Trading Post denounced “continuous smuggling of carrots from China, (which is) flooding the key markets of Manila and other provinces.”

Vehicles around the trading post displayed “Save us, farmers, stop smuggling” stickers during the Monday, February 14 protest.

Smuggling activities are “killing our local carrot production and eventually our farmers,” producers and dealers said.

“We have been complaining since July 2021, yet up to now, they are openly distributing (smuggled) carrots,” said League of Associations at La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post spokesperson Agot Balanoy.

Balanoy said the Department of Agriculture (DA)-led interagency task force failed to act on the issue even after the Senate investigation on vegetable smuggling.

“It’s a big disappointment,” she said.

Aside from carrots, Benguet traders and farmers have also complained of smuggled cabbages from China and imported strawberries from South Korea.

Carrots and cabbages are not in the National Plant Quarantine Services Division’s updated list of allowable fruits and vegetables for imports from China.

Unable to compete

Benguet Vegetable Truckers and Traders Association President Rudy Bulawan said local farmers could not compete with the prices of carrots from China.

From their previous daily deliveries to Metro Manila, vegetable truckers are down to three trips a week, Bulawan said.

Smuggled carrots are now delivered in bulk at almost all ports, making it easier to deliver the product to buyers at lower to no transportation cost, the truckers’ leader said.

“Orders for Benguet carrots already dropped to 50%, and as an added burden from the recent oil price hike, even traders have to recalibrate our trips to survive,” Bulawan added.

“The government does not subsidize our farmers, they cannot compete with the low price of smuggled carrots,” he said.

Apart from the high cost of farm inputs, the recent oil price hike is also hurting producers, Bulawan said. He noted that a ten-wheeler truck consumes about 200 liters of fuel for a trip back and forth.

Oil prices in the country, following a global trend, have climbed steadily over the past seven weeks. On Tuesday, diesel prices rose again by an average of P1.05 per liter, and the total price hike since the start of the year is around P10 per liter.

Widespread, brazen

Linda Balanggoy, a vegetable trader, said that the distribution of smuggled carrots is more brazen now compared to the past.

“Before, those peddling smuggled carrots did it covertly, usually at night in the cover of darkness, now they do it in broad daylight,” she reiterated.

Last year, La Trinidad traders monitored smuggled carrots reaching the markets of Metro Manila, Cebu, and Cagayan De Oro. Now, the contraband is in various markets all over the country, including Sariaya in Quezon province and Urdaneta in Pangasinan.

Balanggoy said that while farmers were starting to recover from their losses when the COVID-19 travel restrictions became more relaxed; the smuggling problem made it difficult for them to cope. –

Sherwin De Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.

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