Benguet flower growers seek help against extortion

By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
www.nordis.net

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Cut flower growers of Alno village in this capital town sought the intervention of the town council to curb the abusive extortion practice of some traffic enforcers along the national highways.

Officers and members of the Alno Cut Flower Growers Association who were at the La Trinindad town council session, January 20, for the accreditation of their group took the chance to ask the local officials help in addressing their long running problem with abusive traffic enforcers.

One of the officers who requested not to be named said cut flower growers are now preparing for the worse this coming Valentine’s season. “Traffic enforcers know that the demand for flowers will increase this Valentine’s and to them it means a rise in their collection too,” she said.

She said that the “kotong” collection starts in Tarlac all the way down to Metro Manila. On the average, one truck gets flagged down three times from Tarlac to Manila and flower growers shell out at least P1,000 per delivery. In the month of February, flowers are being ferried to Manila on a daily basis. The source told Northern Dispatch that she has been in the cut flower business for 10 years now and she has encountered the kotong problem since she started.

Kotong are illegal fees imposed by people in authority and in this case, by corrupt traffic police against traders carrying goods from the provinces to Manila through the national highways. The vehicles are usually stopped on the pretext of traffic violations and instead of giving up their driver’s license, the traders/drivers offer to pay the traffic enforcer to avoid the delay and economic loss while processing the release of their license which can take weeks or even months in a strange town.

The flower grower said they are usually charged for overloading. Flowers are lighter than vegetables but are more bulky, especially roses. “For roses to reach Manila fresh, we have to pack them in styrophoam boxes with dry ice so the pile at the truck’s rear is higher than the front hood making it look like it is overloaded,” she said.
She said her association alone has 58 members and all of them share the same predicament. “We know it is wrong but it has become a common practice,” she said.

She said drivers opt to give officers bribe money because they have to reach the market at the shortest time possible or the flowers would be wilted and it would only spell greater loss.

Vice Mayor Romeo Salsa vowed to assist the flower growers through coordinating dialogues with proper authorities such Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to address the problem. He ordered the council’s committee on agriculture to make the necessary arrangements.

Salda also encouraged all cut flower growers to organize themselves and form a municipal or even a province-wide federation to have a stronger negotiating power in asserting and protecting their rights.

Mayor Edna Tabanda coordinated with the Police Regional Office Cordillera to assist the cut flower growers. “They should have called our attention earlier,” Tabanda said. www.nordis.net

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