Ban on aerial spraying approved

Supporters of the ban said the people affected by aerial spraying since it was first used some 30 years ago, are finally vindicated 

Dagohoy Magaway, leader of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS), said they are so happy their efforts paid off with the approval on second reading of the proposed ban.

Lia Jasmine Esquillo, executive director of the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) said the approval showed there is hope for ordinary people to prevail over the powerful. 

IDIS and MAAS campaigned for the banning of aerial spraying, invoking precautionary principles on the reported health and environment hazards. They pointed out that aerial spraying of chemicals is detrimental to the population and surrounding vegetation.

MAAS members raised a banner that said: "Thank you for banning aerial spraying, Good bye Aerial Spraying" inside the session hall after Vice Mayor Luis Bonguyan banged the gavel approving the decision.

But the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) which had earlier appealed for a 25-year phase out of aerial spraying, is unhappy.

Bruce Laguesma, chair of PBGEA's environment committee, said the ban will affect the quality of export bananas, pose another capital expenditure, and will affect perception towards Philippine bananas in the world market.

"But we respect the decision of the City Council," he told MindaNews. He said they need to get a copy of the proposed ordinance for their meeting this week to discuss their plan of action. 

Laguesma expressed fears the approval of the proposed ordinance will spill all over Mindanao.  One of the expected impacts of the approval is that other local governments in areas where there are wide banana plantations using aerial spraying, may follow suit.

Bukidnon had earlier banned aerial spraying.

Southeastern Mindanao, which comprises the three Davao provinces and Compostela Valley, produces 41 percent  of the production of Cavendish, a banana variety for export. Mindanao produces 76 percent of the total Philippine production, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Councilor Leonardo Avila III, the city council's environment and natural resources committee chair, said they do not expect Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to veto the ordinance.

He said it was the mayor's "very clear" position on the issue that influenced the direction of the city council deliberations.  

The approved ordinance will go through the third and final reading sometime next week, said Avila. The third reading is ceremonial as the period for amendments ends during the  second reading.

The ordinance will take effect 30 days after publication in a local newspaper. The ban will be enforced three months after the effectivity of the ordinance.

In appealing for a 25-year phase out, the PBGEA said ground spray applications would require construction of inner roads within the plantations. At present, these inner roads are not necessary because chemicals are sprayed from the air.

The ordinance also requires banana plantations to provide a 30-meter buffer zone within the boundary of the farm or plantations. The buffer zone should also be planted to diverse trees that would be taller than the crops in the plantation.

The ordinance cites the policy of the city government to encourage its agricultural industry towards organic farming "for the safety of its citizens and the protection of its environment". 

But the environment committee, which recommended the banning after considering the report of City Planning and Development Office coordinator Luis Mario Jacinto and the position papers from various sectors, including MAAS and PBGEA, said in its report that they are not against banana plantations but the method of aerial spraying of pesticides, which is employed by a fourth of the agricultural entities in the city.

It recommended for an "absolute and immediate halt" to aerial spraying.

PBGEA has estimated about P25 million taxes as its annual contribution to the city for some  5,500 hectares of banana plantations here. The banana industry contributes about P160 million in the Southeastern Mindanao region, according to PBGEA estimates released in August 2006.

The nine-page committee report, read by Avila, said the ordinance is a valid exercise of police power by the local government "…because this local legislation places the interests of the public in general over those of a particular class, that is, the interest of the Davaoeños to health and to a clean and healthy ecology vis-à-vis the interests of the agricultural entities engaged in aerial spraying.

Mavic Hilario, also of IDIS, told MindaNews they are “very happy” because “this is not a victory only of MAAS but of the Dabawenyos as well.”

Hilario added: “This is an inspiration for all of us that even ordinary people can win over Goliaths if we don’t give up the fight. We hope that banana companies would see this as a chance to improve their agricultural practices for better. For the City Council, thanks for finally recognizing and acting on our call.” (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)