The “Presidentiables” and Mindanao 2010-2016 (6): Goin’, Growin’ Bananas

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 April) — The latest Green Electoral Initiative survey of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Ecowaste Coalition shows that seven of the nine Presidential candidates have expressed their support for the outright ban of aerial spraying in banana plantations, with the answers of environmentalist Nicanor Perlas and Senator Richard Gordon standing out as “having the most clear and progressive position on the issue.”
In a press statement, the National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying said the GEI survey question was: “Are you FOR or AGAINST the position of the Department of Health recommending that the practice of aerial spraying of agrochemicals in banana plantations be stopped?”
Perlas will “ban aerial spraying of hazardous chemicals especially on banana plantations” and will instead promote “sustainable agriculture approaches to pest and disease management that will adequately protect crops from damage, while protecting the health of communities and ecosystems.”

Gordon said aerial spraying “forces people to inhale toxins against their will,” he said. “A plantation owner who uses pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers on his own property can arguably be within his rights to do so, but when it enters the public realm and affects other people or the environment, he causes an injury that government is obligated to prevent.”
Senator Benigno Aquino, the top choice based on surveys, also pushed for a ban “especially if there are no clear safeguards and testing of the agrochemicals used.”
“Insecticides and pesticides used in any aerial spraying should be outright banned,” he said.
Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, agreed with Aquino. He said he filed a resolution directing the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food and Health and Demography to investigate the practice of aerial spraying in banana plantations.
JC Delos Santos, Senator Jamby Madrigal and Bro. Eddie Villanueva vowed to stop aerial spraying if elected. Only two Presidential aspirants did not participate in the GEI survey: Joseph Estrada and Gilbert Teodoro.
MindaNews did not ask the Presidential aspirants questions directly on the aerial spraying as it wanted to gauge their knowledge on the banana issue, and the issue at that time was even bigger than aerial spraying: President Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 807 repealing Letter of Instruction no. 58 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, limiting the area for export banana plantations to 26,250 hectares.
The lifting of hectarage limits, while received as good news for the banana industry stakeholders, immediately caused apprehensions among peace advocacy groups as expansion of banana lands would likely impact on the peace processes, given that the expansion areas will likely include again ancestral domain areas claimed by the Moro and Lumads.
Expansion of banana lands would also impact on the campaign to ban aerial spraying. This time, the bigger the area for export banana plantations, the bigger the area, too, for aerial spraying of pesticides.
At the time of the interview in August-September, none of the Presidential aspirants, including those who slid to the vice presidency (Legarda and Fernando) and who dropped out of the race (Escudero and Panlilio), had heard of EO 807.
MindaNews asked how the next President will deal with this EO. Their answers:
That would be subject to review also. And again I’m not yet at the stage that I’m very competent. That’s the first time that I heard about that particular Executive Order although one of the books that had a real impact on me was called the “Human Cost of Bananas.” There were I think anthropologists who pretended that they were mere plantation workers and they documented all the ills. I’d like to see if that particular book is validated by experience on the ground.

As long as it is government property and as long as it will be for the benefit of the country, nobody can stop me.

I’m sorry I really I’m not really up to speed on that one but all I know (is) that there (are) some harmful effects of just too much pesticides on bananas and I think there’s some complaint and we should look into that. But at the same time this should not be stopping us from planting bananas, if we can have more bananas. I mean if that is the dollar earner for us and that is the way we can help Filipinos find their future in their own country. I support more banana plantation but if it’s going to, if there’s a negative to it I’d like to know…

[One of the things that we should sell as the strong signal to the country and to people abroad is that we want to develop economically but we will have to find a way to develop economically that is also green at the same time. And is really possible I have actually done and technically helped a lot of small scale banana growers do bananas organically. So it can be done without pesticides]. Let’s fix first the banana industry. We’ll not say that they go away and when we do that in fact if we do expand and then take into consideration ancestral domain and all of this and bring in the indigenous people, the Lumads, the Muslims and the Christians who own a small tract of land, give them a fair deal. When we market that banana globally it will have a premium in a so called burgeoning large scale green market in Europe Japan and United States.

It can work in both ways also eh. I mean even sympathizers and supporters of the MNLF can take advantage of the EO to plant you know. Look at what the late Datu Toto Paglas did, these were the former fighters that created a sustainable agricultural area and they have better livelihood. It could work both ways, just as long once again as you keep to your own legitimate area and you don’t grab anybody else’s land, for banana or for rubber, or for any other thing.

Well ito ay isang bagay na ayokong sabihin na mali o tama. Meron tayong mga batas eh, at dapat susundin naman natin ito. Halimbawa kapag sinabi mo namang mag e-expand ng ganyan then we have to be specific kung ano ba yung kino-cover niya, may mga lupa na maraming nagki-claim. Certainly dapat hindi natin pababayaan yung ating mga Lumads na yan at mga kababayan nating mga indigenous people hindi naman pwede nating pabayaan yan. Kung talagang legitimate ang claim nila, dapat pangalagaan natin yan, in fact meron tayong batas para diyan na dapat bigyan ng proteksyon at hindi pwedeng labagin ang batas na yun. [Tomorrow: On Charter Change] (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)