Experts, supporters pit wits as city council hears aerial spray ban proposal

The proponents of the ordinance said the measure would protect the
environment and peoples' health. But opponents countered that aerial
spraying is safe and claimed the ordinance would be detrimental to the
banana industry, Davao's top export earner.

Convening itself as "committee as a whole," the city council listened to
presentations by representatives of the banana industry, non-government
organizations, peoples' organizations, scientists and researchers, and
government agencies.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's earlier pronouncement supporting the ban has
pressured the city council to decide on the proposed ban which, if approved,
would be implemented by January 2007.

The council did not approve it on second reading on August 8 and decided to
hold the special session to get a closer look at the issue and "first hand
information" from the stakeholders.

Toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano of the Pesticides Action Network – Asia led
the presenters who recommended banning aerial spraying while Dr. Arturo
Boncato, Sr. presented the arguments of the Pilipino Banana Growers and
Exporters Association (PBGEA).

At the jam-packed session hall, Quijano explained to the councilors the
hazards that aerial spraying pose on peoples' health and the environment,
citing the cases he monitored in Davao City.

He said it is the moral responsibility of the government to protect the
people from the health hazards caused by chemicals used in aerial spraying,
which, he said, affect not only those living near plantations but other
persons as well.

"We are all affected by pesticides. Once released into the world, chemicals
cause toxic reactions, will persist in the environment for years, travel
thousands of kilometers from where they were used and threaten long-term
health and ecological consequences that were never anticipated or intended,"
he said.

"It is very expensive to impose regulations and institutionalize monitoring
systems for compliance," said University of the Philippines Manila professor
Dr. Lynn Panganiban, in a press conference with Quijano minutes before
appearing at the session.

Both scientists asserted that even minimal dosage of chemicals in fungicides
used by banana companies in aerial spraying is already hazardous to health
and the environment since all chemicals are poisonous.

Norlito Gicana, Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority executive director, told
the councilors that all the chemicals used were approved by the FPA and were
tested to be not hazardous based on the samples sent to them. "But if there
are technical data submitted to us, we will take action, if possible ban the
chemicals," he said.

He clarified that they were not there to make a position on the issue.

"Just keep it simple, ban it. For sure the banana industry has the capacity
to shift to alternative methods that do not harm people," Quijano said,
invoking the internationally accepted "precautionary principle".

"Whenever there is serious threat to health and the environment, lack of
scientific certainty should not postpone cost-effective measures to prevent
harm. When there are reasonable grounds to indicate potential harm to health
& environment, precautionary action should be taken even if cause and effect
relationship has not been established scientifically," he quoted the
principle.

But PBGEA argued that aerial spraying is a "universally accepted"
agricultural practice in banana plantations. The group belittled the claim
that fungicides used in aerial spraying pose health hazards, saying the
application method is efficient both quality-wise and cost-wise.

Dr. Arturo Boncato Sr. showed that Propiconazole, the active ingredient of
fungicide Tilt 250 EC consists of 0.33 percent only of the total spray
volume applied per hectare. He said the chemical stays only for a minute on
the ground and that the whole spray volume is 81.83 percent water.

PBGEA further argued "there are no real and reasonable needs to ban aerial
spraying" but admitted there is a need for closer monitoring and strict
supervision of the application to ensure safe use of fungicides.

"To maximize production of quality fruit for export and remain competitive
in the world markets aerial spray as an agricultural practice must be
retained and not banned as proposed," PBGEA said.

The group also stressed that ground spraying, which works in irregular
terrain, buffer zones and other areas is not a viable alternative.

Reading the manifesto of support from 25 unnamed barangay captains, Manuel
Guianga barangay chair Antipas Batingal said they support the banana
industry and the use of aerial spray.

Panganiban, also officer-in-charge of the National Poison Control and
Information Service, said scientific evidences show that exposure of
children and women to
chemicals
proved to be hazardous.

Forty four-year old Cecilia Moran, mother of 3, told the council of her
family's ordeal with aerial spraying. The Morans, who live 40 meters away
from a banana plantation in Calinan, said they suffered health disorders,
diminished coconut harvest and financial difficulties.

A barangay councilor from Wangan in Calinan, where a banana plantation
operates, asked the city to weigh aerial spraying carefully. "I am not
against the banana industry, but there is a need to look closer at aerial
spraying and its side effect.”

The hearing gathered supporters from both sides of the issue. The pro-ban
group occupied most of the left-wing gallery seats and the balcony and
displayed round-shaped white papers printed with the "Ban Aerial Spaying
Now" slogan. The anti-ban sat in the right-wing gallery seats and wore "We
support the banana industry" stickers on their left chests.

Speakers from both sides were made to present alternately and the audience
was warned against booing and clapping. But murmurs from the audience on
catchy phrases, including Councilor Jesus Zozobrado’s teasing Dr. Panganiban
for her "charm", and a visit of a Venezuelan embassy official interrupted
the session.

During the 25-minute preliminaries Zozobrado moved to hear Councilor Ricardo
Cabling's proposed watershed ordinance together with the ban ordinance. But
environment committee chair Leonardo Avila blocked the move for lack
of "committee report".

Cabling's proposal was pitched as an alternative to the proposal to ban
aerial spraying.

A Mindanao Insider newspaper supplement was also distributed in the hall
with all articles opposing the ban.

The paper admitted they published the supplement through Roger Balanza, a
part-time copy editor, "to help the banana industry, considered as the
underdog in the deliberations".

At the end of the four and a half hour special session, Avila told MindaNews
he was optimistic the council would approve the proposed ordinance on August
29.

Quijano and Panganiban told MindaNews the best "win-win" scenario is a
gradual phase-out plan and to give time to those who would be affected. But
the city government announced earlier its preference to ban aerial spraying
by January 1, 2007.

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