Gradual ban on aerial spraying by banana plantations likely

The team, which investigated the effects of chemical drifts from aerial spraying on communities here, also proposed the strict observance of buffer zones as provided for in the Environmental Compliance Certificates issued to the companies.

The complete text of the report, however, is yet to be made public.

The team, led by City Planning and Development Officer Mario Luis Jacinto, has pushed for regulation with "severe restrictions bordering on almost banning aerial spraying", Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said at the Regional Peace and Order Council's yearend meeting Thursday.

Duterte said the gradual ban would give the companies time to build roads and other preparations for the eventual use of boom or ground spraying.

The banana industry here considers aerial spraying efficient and effective compared to the other method.

Duterte gave no timeframe for the implementation of the proposed ordinance as it is still pending at the city council.

The mayor's pronouncement at the city government's "Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa" (From the masses, to the masses) television program Sunday is his latest on the proposed ban which has remained pending since 2004.

The city council has deferred voting on the proposed ordinance after Duterte asked that the fact-finding team be given time to find "hard evidence" on allegations by pro-ban groups that people have died and suffered illnesses due to aerial spraying.

The team held consultations with industry stakeholders and verified claims presented by both parties on the issue.

City Councilor Leo Avila, environment and natural resources committee chair, said they will consider the study in their decision but added they have yet to receive a copy of it.

But it is no longer possible to pass the proposed ordinance by January 1, Avila told MindaNews Friday.

Duterte announced in August the city would implement the ban starting day one of 2007. He conceded that chemicals used in aerial spraying are poisonous, as explained by toxicologists and other experts to the city council in August.

Various groups have pushed for the ban invoking precautionary principle.

But last month, Duterte backtracked citing lack of sufficient proof linking aerial spraying to a single death or illness.

Pro-ban groups said his stand has put business above the lives of people and the environment.

The mayor said any decision on the controversy should be based on substantiated claims. He scored pro-ban advocates for jumping into conclusions even if they have not yet read the fact-finding team's report.

He cited the city government's effort to carefully study the issue before deciding. He said he wants a "government run by the rule of law".

He stressed in speaking engagements last week the need to balance the protection of people and the city government's need to earn revenues.

He said Sunday that alongside the need to protect the rights of the people is the need to protect the interests of investors.

"As mayor, I have the duty to protect everybody," he said.

In September, he also met with officials of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA). A PBGEA official confirmed they were consulted by the team and considered the process as part of a "workable arrangement" .

Duterte told representatives of pro-ban groups the likelihood of a gradual ban on aerial spraying in a meeting Thursday.

He said the city council's decision, not his opinion on the matter, is the "official judgment of the city government" amid reports he has often changed tack on the issue.

He said the ball is now with the city council.

The city council, Avila said, was ready to approve the proposed ordinance in October.

At that time, he recalled, only three councilors were not supportive of the ban. But the highly publicized "Kalabasa Awards" staged by the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying apparently to embarass four councilors backfired against the campaign, he noted.

Avila denied the city council compromised its independence when it agreed to wait for the results of the investigation conducted by the Duterte-sanctioned fact-finding team.

He said they need to consider the position of the executive before voting on a proposed legislation.