BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Deaths and deadly respiratory diseases were claims advanced by critics of aerial spraying in banana plantations in Davao City.
But ten years after approval of a Davao City ordinance banning aerial spraying of fungicides in the plantations, the same questions linger without proof.
We hope opponents of aerial spraying could prove their allegations, said Salvador Escreda, a resident of Subasta in upland Calinan in Davao City, where about 300 hectares are planted to bananas by one of the companies under the umbrella of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA).
Escreda works as a farmhand in the plantation earning P300.00 daily.
My family and I could have died long ago, not from aerial spraying, but from hunger had the ordinance been implemented, said Escreda.
The Supreme Court will have a fair decision if it comes down to Davao City to see if somebody died from aerial spraying, said Escreda, challenging groups against the practice to justify their claims of deaths and diseases.
This developed as the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray (Maas) and the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS).
Mass and IDIS strongly lobbied for the ordinance that was passed in 2007. They are now pressing the High Court to decide on a pending issue questioning the ordinance.
Implementation of the ordinance has been stalled after PBGEA contested the legality of the ordinance before the local court, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, where it is now pending decision.
At a press conference in Davao City, Maas chairman Dagohoy Magaway said: The Supreme Court is turning a blind eye and deaf ears on the plight of the suffering communities by failing to issue a prompt ruling.
This is an injustice of massive proportions, said Magaway.
Idis executive director Lia Jasmin Esquillo said the findings about risk to health of aerial spraying should be considered by the Supreme Court.
But during public hearings by the Davao City Council before the ordinance was approved, the Department of Health, the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said pesticides used in aerial spraying is harmless.
The Davao City Health Office also said it had recorded no deaths linked to aerial spraying during the 40 years that it has been used in banana plantations.
PBGEA said fungicide aerial spraying is the safest and most economical method of fighting off sigatoka, a deadly leaf virus that once crippled the banana industry in South America, the world’s major producer of exportable Cavendish banana.
While environmentalists hailed the ordinance, the business community said it could lead to mass unemployment and reduced taxes. The Cavendish banana industry is a pioneering and major industry in the Davao Region.
Stephen Antig said the banana industry in Davao City has been reduced to half after the passage of the anti-aerial spray ordinance.
Investors run away to invest in Compostela Valley and other provinces for fear of losing their money, said Antig, executive director of PBGEA.
Without fungicide aerial spraying, the quality and volume of Cavendish would be badly affected, said Antig. The banana industry rakes in annual export earnings estimated at US$400M to US$600M or about P2 Billion annually, said Antig. On top of its tremendous contribution to the economy, the banana industry is also one of the biggest employer. Export Cavendish banana has been adopted as a One Town One Product (OTOP) by most of provinces in the Davao Region.