Duterte: no conclusive evidence to ban aerial spraying

Duterte cited findings from a study conducted by a task force led by City Planning and Development Office coordinator Mario Luis Jacinto and City Health Officer Dr. Josephine Villafuerte.

Earlier, Jacinto said they had verified documents submitted by pro-ban groups Maas and Interface Development and Interventions (IDIS)  and a position paper by the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) and the Department of Health. He said they conducted consultations with stakeholders.

Knowing the mayor’s influence, Councilor Nenita Orcullo said there is a likelihood that the City Council might not ban aerial spray anymore.

But Orcullo told MindaNews there should be a gradual phase out of the method of chemical spraying, as she originally proposed in 2004.

In his “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” (From the Masses, To the Masses) Sunday television program, Duterte said that instead of a ban, government agencies must carefully check if the method used by banana companies is not hazardous to the public.

He noted that banana plantations are already putting up safety measures to cut risks. He proposed the use of manual method of spraying in areas where residents are opposing aerial spraying.

Protesters accused Duterte of deciding in favor of the rich and in favor of  business over health and environment.

In a statement sent to MindaNews Monday, the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) said “it is unfair for the government to look for dead bodies first before acting on these (alleged hazards).”

“MAAS believes that good policy makers take their steps ahead of the problem," the statement read.

Duterte, invoking precautionary measure following claims about the aerial spray’s alleged hazards to health and environment, had earlier pushed for the ban.

On August 29, Duterte asked: "When are we going to stop them (banana companies using aerial spraying), when people have already died?" 

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

Orcullo said the mayor pulled a surprise in his shift of position from banning to regulating aerial spray.

She said Duterte likewise surprised them when he announced months ago to opt for the ban starting next year.

Orcullo proposed in 2004 to legislate guidelines to regulate aerial spraying en route to a gradual phase out in five years.  

She said councilors were ready to rally behind the mayor on the proposed ban.

But it's not yet "give up" time for the proposed ban, said Councilor Leo Avila, chair of the committee on environment and natural resources that proposed the ordinance.

Avila said they have not received a copy of the study findings the mayor cited.

The City Council, he said, will factor in the study when it returns to the plenary to decide on the proposed legislation.

Avila revealed that a group has proposed to conduct a comparative study to determine the level of ethylene thiourea (ETU), a degradation by-product of the fungicide used, in the air and presence of the same in blood of residents.

Environment groups had earlier called for the passing of an ordinance to ban the method, backed by studies conducted by toxicologists and other scientists. They blamed aerial spraying for the illnesses and deaths around banana plantations, an allegation officials of banana plantations deny. 

Last month, Duterte created a task force to look for evidence on the allegations after he announced on Oct. 1 the need to look for hard evidence on the allegations. “We cannot just make a decision without the hard facts," he said.