La Trinidad, Benguet officials stressed the strawberry farms do not get water from the polluted Balili River
The STAR/Andy Zapata Jr., file
Baguio's Magalong sorry for slip on La Trinidad strawberries
Artemio Dumlao ( - January 17, 2020 - 10:11am

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has apologized to La Trinidad, Benguet for comments that disparaged the town and its strawberry fields.

He said that while his comments were meant to drive home the need for cleaner waterways, he should not have made statements that could damage the neighboring town's reputation.

"I was emphasizing that we in Baguio are guilty of polluting Balili River that flows down to the municipality, that we have a social responsibility to address it and that we are going to do something about it so that they will have cleaner water but in my desire to drive home that point, I came up with uncalled for statement that I should have not said at all. I was wrong and I apologize," the mayor said.

During a top level meeting among Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo–Puyat, Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año and Assistant Environment Secretary Jesus Salazar and Baguio-La Trinidad–Itogon–Sablan–Tuba and Tublay leaders, Magalong indicated in jest in his presentation of Baguio's planned rehabilitation that La Trinidad strawberries are irrigated with water from the "polluted" Balili River.

"Saan nanggagaling pinandidilig sa strawberry farm? Saan nanggagaling ang pinandidilig natin doon, kung minsan kapag nag strawberry picking tayo, may nakita tayong napalaking strawberries sinusubo na natin," Magalong smirked as he exposed Baguio's woes on air quality, water supply and solid waste management.

(Where does the water for the strawberry farm come from? Sometimes, when we go strawberry picking and we see large strawberries, we put them in our mouths right away.)

It brought laughter and giggles from others and disdain from La Trinidad officials present, which included La Trinidad Mayor Romeo Salda and Benguet Gov. Melchor Diclas.

Diclas left the meeting after a few minutes but Salda stayed.

Magalong was advocating additional space in the sewerage treatment plant which currently operates above its normal operating capacity of only 8,600 cubic meters. The plant serves as an increased population of more than 90,000 homes.

Salda disputed Magalong's statements, saying water for the strawberries comes "from [the] creek from Pico and Puguis but none from Balili River."

Balili River has been polluted by illegal waste discharge.

Due to the ailing state of the river, the Balili River System Coalition was created which composed of the City of Baguio, La Trinidad and Sablan and the province of Benguet, Environmental Management Bureau-Cordillera Administrative Region, private sector, academe and civil society groups.

Salda said Magalong had already earlier apologized through a text message and had promised to make amends.

Jumy Buya, head of La Trinidad Farmers Irrigators Association said water from springs, deep wells, and water deliveries is used for the strawberries at the farms.

La Trinidad tourism officer Valred Olsim had urged other officials within the Baguio-La Trinidad-Itogon-Sablan-Tuba-Tublay (BLISTT) areas to be more mindful in issuing or uttering statements that can have a negative impact on their neighbors.

Olsim also said that the Balili River is far from the strawberry farms. 

He said that the farmers together with the municipal government of La Trinidad are doing necessary measures to ensure the safety of the visitors and all the people in the capital town of Benguet.

"We are presently working for the passage of the tourism code of our town to set standards that should be followed especially in the agri-tourism sites," he said.

Most of the tourists who go to Baguio also go to La Trinidad strawberry farm for the strawberry picking and other attractions of Benguet.

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