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Benguet traders may stop food runs to Metro

MANILA, Philippines - Benguet traders said yesterday they may have to stop delivering agricultural products to Metro Manila unless the government stops criminals from stealing their produce and corrupt police officers from extorting money or goods from them.

La Trinidad, Benguet Mayor Artemio Galwan met with Manila police officials yesterday to find a solution to the problems encountered by truck drivers on their way to delivery stations in Metro Manila.

“Once these traders start to suspend deliveries, the food chain will be greatly affected especially to the consumers in the lowlands,” Galwan said, noting that some 1.2 million kilos of fruits and vegetables are delivered daily from Benguet to food stations in Metro Manila.  

According to Augusta Balanoy, executive secretary of the 350-strong Benguet Truckers and Traders Association, the thefts have been increasing in frequency since October last year, with the latest occurring on April 25.

She said their members also complain about “jumpers,” usually underage boys used by syndicates, using bladed weapons to tear through tarpaulin sheets that hold the produce in place.

“Tarpaulins, which can cost as much as P15,000, become useless when torn and (present) an added cost to traders,” Balanoy said.

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The complainants said most of the thefts occurred under the Delpan bridge in Tondo, the usual route of delivery trucks coming from Benguet province.

Meisic police station chief Superintendent Nelson Yabut, the highest-ranking police official at the meeting, said he had already proposed that the Manila Police District install surveillance cameras at the Delpan bridge and other strategic routes in Manila to identify and arrest the culprits.

Other police officials in the meeting advised the truckers’ group to immediately report thefts to the nearest police precincts so police officers could promptly act on their complaint. Police noted that most of the victims chose not to report so as not to hamper their daily deliveries.

Yabut noted that “jumper” syndicates used minors in their illegal operations to escape prosecution once these minors are arrested.

Police chiefs of Tondo, Binondo and the Sta.Cruz districts vowed to increase patrols and checkpoints to rid their areas of theft gangs preying on delivery trucks.

Galwan also noted that most low-ranking policemen harass delivery trucks, even those with “food lane” stickers. Delivery trucks bearing the sticker should “not be delayed” as most of their goods are perishable, Galwan said. Police commanders said they will “refresh” their men on this policy.

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