‘Baguio’s cesspool watering famous La Trinidad strawberries’
LA TRINIDAD, Philippines — Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong told national officials over the weekend here that the famous strawberries in La Trinidad, Benguet grow on water from Baguio’s cesspool.
In his presentation of Baguio’s rehabilitation during a top-level meeting with Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Environment Assistant Secretary Jesus Salazar representing Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Baguio-La Trinidad-Itogon-Sablan-Tuba-Tublay (BLISTT) leaders on Friday, Magalong said in jest that strawberries, the main product of neighboring town La Trinidad, grow on water from the “polluted” Balili River.
“Where do we get water for the strawberry farm? Sometimes, when we go strawberry-picking, when we see a really big strawberry, we eat it at once,” Magalong said as he exposed Baguio’s woes on air quality, water supply and solid waste management.
It brought laughter and giggles but disdain from La Trinidad officials present, including its Mayor Romeo Salda and Benguet Gov. Melchor Diclas.
Diclas left the meeting after a few minutes while Salda stayed.
Magalong was advocating additional space in the sewerage treatment plant, which currently operates at 12,400 cubic meters daily – way above its normal operating capacity of only 8,600 cubic meters – pursuant to its design that needs urgent rehabilitation considering the increase in the number of houses in the city, which has reached over 90,000.
Salda, however, disproved Magalong, saying there is no irrigation from Balili River going to the swamp area where strawberry farms are.
“We have a source from the creek from Pico and Puguis but none from Balili River,” Salda said.
Balili River, which spans from Kilometer 3 to Kilometer 6, remains polluted due to illegal waste discharge. Its headwaters are Baguio City.
The ailing state of the river prompted the creation of the Balili River System Coalition, which is composed of Baguio City, La Trinidad and Sablan and the province of Benguet, Environmental Management Bureau (EMB)-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the private sector, academe and civil society groups.
Later, Salda said Magalong had apologized through a text message.
“My apologies if you felt slighted with my pronouncement regarding Balili River and our strawberry farm. I believe it was uncalled for. I will make amends,” the text message from Magalong read.
Water from springs, deep wells and water deliveries irrigate the strawberries farms, according to La Trinidad Farmers Irrigators Association head Jumy Buya.
Meanwhile, La Trinidad tourism officer Valred Olsim urged other officials within BLISTT areas to be circumspect in issuing or uttering statements that can have a negative impact on their neighbors.
Olsim also said Balili River is far from the strawberry farms and farmers, together with the municipal government of La Trinidad, are taking necessary measures to ensure the safety of 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 on agri-tourism sites,” he said.
“We wish to point out that some of the information there are not true,” Olsim said, referring to Magalong’s statement. “Balili River is not connected to the farm.”
He stressed that in the spirit of the BLISTT concept where local government units of each municipality, including Baguio, are supposedly cooperating with one another to promote the benefit of all, officials should be careful in their comments.
“As leaders of the BLISTT community, we should consider how others will feel, especially our neighbors, because tourism has no boundaries,” he said.
Most of the tourists who go to Baguio also go to La Trinidad strawberry farms for strawberry-picking and other attractions of Benguet.