Duterte blinks on aerial spraying ban proposal

In Sunday’s episode of the city government's television program "Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa" (From the people, for the people), Duterte asked for 10  days to "conduct a survey" on the issue.

The mayor said his earlier stand was based only on his personal take on the issue. He said the survey, likened to an actuarial survey conducted by insurance firms, could be a joint executive and legislative undertaking.

He clarified he was still “neutral” on the issue and that "whatever decision we can come up with, it will be anchored on hard evidence, not on unsubstantiated claims."

Councilor Leo Avila, who chairs the committee on environment proposing the ban, clarified to MindaNews in a message Sunday that the mayor only wanted "something to support the ban".  

The pronouncement came six days after the mayor met with officials of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA).

Duterte's statement was welcomed by the Interface Development Interventions Inc., a non-government organization and a leading oppositor to aerial spraying.

IDIS executive director Lia Jasmin Esquillo, in a message to MindaNews Sunday, said they will give the mayor all available data at hand for the study.

"We are confident that he (Duterte) will decide in favor of the people who have been demanding their rights to a safe environment," Esquillo said.

The City Council is yet to vote on the proposed ordinance. Citing technicalities, the Council last week deferred the deliberation of an ad-hoc committee consolidated report which put together the positions and manifestations of different sectors on the proposed ordinance.  

PBGEA has campaigned against the proposed ban, claiming it would mean greater operations costs. It added allegations that the practice poses hazards were "unsubstantiated".

Duterte cited Sunday the same reason and also the acceptability of aerial spraying in other countries. "As of now there has been no conclusive evidence yet on those allegations," he said.

The mayor said they would go around the plantations and document "profound proof" of hazards that would cause illnesses in or death of humans.

Only a month ago, Duterte told reporters he was for the banning of aerial spraying even without concrete evidence yet on its alleged hazards.

He said the city government has the obligation to protect its people citing the internationally practiced "precautionary principle".

The principle adheres to carrying out authorized actions despite the absence of scientific data to back it.

"When are we going to stop them, when people have already died?" he told reporters on August 29.    

Duterte then said they could talk about win-win solutions once the ban has been implemented.

He stressed Sunday that he was very much concerned about protecting the people's health and the environment. "But we cannot just make a decision without the hard facts," he said.

He cited that the ban could dislocate the industry's resources.

Last week, he said he would study further the inputs available on the issue. He was quoted by local newspaper reports to have said that "the banana industry is after all supporting the economy of the city and the country.”

Toxicologists, including a University of the Philippines professor tapped by the Department of Health on poison studies, have presented cases of health hazards to the city council.  

PBGEA has dared pro-ban advocates to present evidence on the alleged hazards. But the group said its members would remain in Davao even if the ban ordinance is approved "for it might cause more losses."

Pro-ban advocates last week have censured four members of the city council who they accused of delaying the deliberations for their own vested interests.

Duterte pronounced more than a month ago his preference to ban aerial spraying starting January 2007.

City councilors admitted the mayor's stand has prompted the city council to tackle the proposed ordinance.

Councilor Nenita Orcullo first proposed in 2004 a resolution to regulate aerial spraying in the city's agricultural plantations. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)