Pro-ban group walks out as City Council defers decision on aerial spray ban

The Council, which was expected to have approved on second reading today (Tuesday) the ordinance banning aerial spraying, announced instead that it would re-convene as a "committee of the whole" on August 23, to look closer into the proposed legislation.

Councilor Leo Avila, chair of the environment committee, said the councilors are “very keen” on this and want first hand information.

Vice Mayor Luis Bonguyan on August 6 announced in the Sunday television program that  the city government will ban aerial spraying in all agricultural plantations starting January 1, 2007.  

Avila said today’s deferment will not affect the January 1 target.

Aerial spraying is used in around 900 of the 5,000 hectares of land planted to banana in Davao City, Avila said.  Among the areas affected are Dakudao, Tamayong, Sirib, and Subasta in Calinan district; Manuel Gianga in Tugbok; and Tigato and Mandug in Buhangin district.

He said he will name within two days the persons the councilors will meet in the Aug. 23 session. Among these are members of the multi-sectoral Technical Working Group (TWG) that helped prepare the proposed ordinance, including representatives from the banana industry and the communities near the areas where aerial spraying is used.  

Experts and representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, and the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority will also be invited, Avila said.

In his committee report, Avila recommended the approval of the resolution endorsing the ban by 2007. But some councilors contested the resolution. Councilor Diosdado Mahipus questioned the constitutionality of the local ordinance citing its alleged bias against banana plantations.

Mahipus stressed he could not vote on an ordinance that could be subject to legal complications later on.

Councilor Victorio Advincula, backed by Councilor Emmanuel D. Galicia, Sr., proposed to change the substance of the proposal from banning aerial spraying to banning the use of "harmful and hazardous chemicals" in whatever form of spraying.

Mahipus insisted on asking Councilor Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling, committee vice chair, to present his version of the resolution. But Cabling, who signed the committee report with a note to inhibit voting on the measure, declined to answer.

Cabling, former environment committee chair who now chairs the committee on housing, rural and urban development, proposed to address issues raised by critics of aerial spraying in a "complete approach" with his proposed Watershed Code, now pending for legal opinion at the City Legal Office.

"Banning aerial spraying is not a complete solution to the problem of our environmentally critical areas," he told reporters later.

Councilor Bonifacio Militar, after a supposed session break of one minute but which lasted for at least five, said the council cannot pass a "half-baked" ordinance. He proposed the Aug. 23 meeting to "carefully study" the issue.     

Magaway said it has taken the City Council so long to deliberate on the issue to the detriment of the communities affected by aerial spraying.

Magaway said they might attend the special session but only with a technical person.  "It is unfair for us to attend just by ourselves when those opposing the ban will bring with them their technical people," he said.           

MAAS and other groups advocating the ban attended Tuesday’s session with "Ban aerial spraying now" slogans on round-shaped paper pinned on their clothes.

Councilor Nenita Orcullo first proposed an ordinance to prescribe guidelines on aerial application of chemicals used by agri-business industries in August 2004.

In February this year, a technical working group was created with members coming from the banana industry, NGOs, and communities affected. The TWG facilitated four hearings in drafting the proposed law.

Councilor Peter Laviña earlier told MindaNews that once the ordinance is passed, no  business permit would be issued to banana plantations employing aerial spray.

"But it worries us in the business community," Atty. Bienvenido Cariaga, president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. told MindaNews last Monday. He said this would affect Davao’s banana industry as this would raise the production cost.

If approved, Davao will not be the first in Mindanao to ban aerial spraying. Neighboring Bukidnon province banned the use of aerial spraying in all agricultural plantations in 2001. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)