Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stop poison rain, foreign experts ask PGMA

Two hundred signatories from 44 countries, among them, noted scientists and health experts, have asked Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “to end poison rain” or the aerial pesticide spraying of banana plantations in Mindanao.

“We are writing to register our support for the ongoing effort of rural poor communities in Mindanao, Philippines to stop the aerial spraying of agrochemicals in banana plantations,” the signatories said.

“In the spirit of global citizenship,” they added, “we state our solidarity with the women and men of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Citizens Against Aerial Spraying) and many other people’s organizations from the various banana-growing provinces in southern Philippines who are asserting their inherent right not to be harmed by aerial pesticide operations.”

Calling aerial spraying “a clear and present assault against individual and collective rights” the signatories denounced the chemical exposure of farming communities in the vicinity of banana plantations where aerial spraying is used. “We support them in their just quest to keep harmful chemicals away from their bodies, homes and farms,” the signatories said.

Among the signatories are Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, USA; Yuyun Ismawati, 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Indonesia; Jayakumar Chelaton, zero waste and endosulfan ban crusader, India; Sarojeni Rengam, pesticide activist Malaysia; Dr. Paul Saoke, anti-DDT public health expert, Kenya; Rico Euripidou, environmental epidemiologist, South Africa; and Fatou Hann, Women of Africa Guinea.

The group commended Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and the Executive Committee of the Department of Health (DOH) “for standing by and adopting the key recommendations arising from a study prepared for the DOH, the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology and the University of the Philippines - National Poison Management and Control Center.”

The recommendations were:
1. Establish a health surveillance system to detect effects of chronic pesticide exposures.

2. Perform systematic and periodic monitoring of pesticide residues and metabolites in the environment and do remediation where necessary

3. Develop and strengthen guidelines for protecting communities from pesticide contamination from plantations.

4. Stop the aerial spraying of pesticides in the light of the precautionary principle espoused by the Rio Declaration of which the Philippines is a signatory.

5. Shift to organic farming techniques to prevent harm to health and the environment that can result from acute and chronic pesticide exposures.

In their letter to Pres. Arroyo, the signatories said, “Now that the country’s number one public health agency has spoken, we respectfully urge you to issue without delay an Executive Order banning the agricultural practice of aerial spraying that will reflect and strengthen the position of the DOH Executive Committee.”

Such a policy based on prevention and precaution, the group said, will surely contribute to the national implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) that aims to minimize and eliminate the harms caused by exposure to toxic substances.

They also urged the President “to use the power of your office to direct the banana industry to honor their corporate social responsibility and cooperate towards achieving the recommendations set out by the DOH in the greater interest of public health.”

School children on their way to school, farmers cultivating their small farms, people drinking coffee al fresco and families doing their daily chores are among those who suffer indirect hits and have to run for cover when airplanes unleash pesticides on vast banana plantations. While they are not the intended targets, there is no way they can avoid getting hit by the airplanes’ toxic load. Respiratory and skin ailments are among the first signs of a toxic hit.

Farm animals, edible plants and water sources also catch their share of the toxic rain.

Aerial spraying is not the only way to fight pests, MAAS has stressed again and again. There are other ways, among them manual and boom spraying, but banana plantation owners prefer the aerial method in order to cut costs.

Davao City is not the only place in Mindanao that has to put up with aerial spraying. Davao City’s feisty mayor Rodrigo Duterte is a vocal anti-aerial spraying advocate and the local government had passed an ordinance against it. But the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) challenged the ordinance in court.

The petitioners got a favorable decision but PBGEA elevated the case to the Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, aerial spraying continues.

According to MAAS, aerial spraying is a way of applying pesticides on agricultural crops with the use of airplanes. In the Philippines, exporters of Cavendish bananas use this method to kill the Sigatoka fungus. Filipinos prefer to eat the native varieties.

Aerial spraying hits not just the intended targets but human and non-humans as well that happen to be within the range of the toxic fallout. MAAS said that the toxic drift reaches 3.2 kms. on the average.

The provincial government of Bukidnon banned aerial spraying way back in 2001 and North Cotabao in 2004. Davao City’s 2007 ordinance to ban aerial spraying is being challenged by plantation owners because it supposedly violates their right to property.

Sen. Miguel Zubiri and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez have filed bills to ban aerial spraying in the entire country.