AGRIWORKERS SLAM HARASSMENT COMPLAINT VS AERIAL SPRAY BAN ACTIVIST
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, today decried the revival of harassment complaints against Dr. Romeo Quijano, an internationally known and respected health expert and staunch activist against aerial spray and pesticide poisoning.
Six individuals from Sitio Camocaan, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur reportedly filed complaints of “unprofessionalism” against Dr. Quijano before the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) for “spreading lies” that hurt the local banana industry, particularly the expansion of agricultural corporation Lapanday Agricultural Development Corporation (LADECO) based in Davao provinces.
The core of the complaint is Dr. Quijano’s extensive study and expose on pesticide poisoning in LADECO banana plantations, published as newspaper features such as the article “Poisoned Lives” which appeared in the now-defunct The Philippine Post in 2000.
“The complaints against Dr. Quijano are not new. He was already slapped with multi-million peso libel suits by LADECO and other influential persons, groups and even giant multinational companies with insatiable business interests,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA secretary-general.
Echanis said that Dr. Quijano’s study in Camocaan (Kamukhaan) highlights the case of 150 families poisoned by the use of pesticides in a nearby banana plantation controlled by LADECO. The poisoning has caused widespread disease and even the death of several residents and banana plantation workers since the early 1980s. Persistent ground and aerial spraying of hazardous pesticides such as Dithane, Baycor, Furadan, Decis, Nemacur and Gramoxone in Camocaan over the years have also polluted soil and water killing vegetation, animals and fish and thereby affecting the livelihood of farmers and fishermen. Workers directly subjected to hazardous conditions are also reportedly underpaid, according to Dr. Quijano.
The credible research by Dr. Quijano led to the enactment of a Davao City ordinance banning aerial spray in 2009. In 2005, Dr. Quijano received the prestigious Jenifer Altman Awards which “honors the pursuit of science in the public interest, and highlight(s) scientists who have held true to their belief in the scientific process, and the public’s right to full information.”
LADECO is controlled by the Lorenzo family, who are now also the latest, spanking business partners of the Cojuangco-Aquino family in Hacienda Luisita and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).
UMA said that big business in cahoots with corrupt government officials are pushing for the unbridled expansion of banana plantations in Mindanao, to the detriment of agricultural workers directly handling pesticides without protective gear, and of whole communities regularly exposed to aerial spray.
“These unscrupulous corporations want to make it appear that the use of harmful chemicals is a non-issue which should not obstruct the 'boost' in the banana industry. The health and environmental effects of these chemicals are only a few of the many urgent and compelling reasons why the public and the government must act to reexamine the expansion and the very existence of these corporate agricultural plantations,” said Echanis.
The displacement of peasant communities, and the recent spate of extra-judicial killings of Lumad or indigenous peoples in Mindanao is related to the insidious expansion of agricultural plantations, dubbed as “the other face of plunder in Mindanao” aside from the violent intrusion of giant mining firms.
According to reports, the total land area planted with different varieties of bananas all over the country has already reached 441,951 hectares in 2014. Majority of the country’s banana yield is sourced from Mindanao, which is produced from 243,450 hectares.
To highlight the effects of these corporate plantations, UMA, KMP, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in Manila and the Northern Mindanao Region and the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) will spearhead the formation of a national action network resisting the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao.
Dr. Quijano will be one of the main speakers in the National Conference on Mindanao Plantations to be held on October 28, at the UP College of Education Auditorium in Diliman, Quezon City. The network, to be called REAP Mindanao Network will be launched during the conference. A press briefing will follow.
Aside from Dr. Quijano, local labor leader Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis and other representatives of affected Lumad, peasant and working class communities in Mindanao will provide testimonials on the impact of corporate agricultural plantations in the island.
The conference, which is part of activities of the island-wide protest caravan Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015, is open to the public.
Dr. Quijano, a professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the College of Medicine, University of the Philippines, Manila, is also the convener of Resistance and Solidarity Against AgrochemicalTNCs (RESIST) network and president of the Philippine arm of the international advocacy group Pesticide Action Network (PAN-Philippines). /MP