Zubiri vows law banning aerial spray in RP

Zubiri was in town to lead inaugural rites of Bukidnon's P125-million Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center here. He was supposed to join President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but her trip was cancelled due to "bad weather".

The Mindanawon senator threw his support to Davao City's local ordinance a week after the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro declared the aerial spray ban "invalid and unconstitutional". 

"It is extremely an environmental hazard, dangerous to the people, dangerous to animals, including wildlife," Zubiri said. He described the threat of chemical sprayed from planes as "to whom it may concern — it affects anyone."

Zubiri said the city government of Davao should take the case up to the Supreme Court since the appellate court's January 9 decision reversed the verdict of Davao's Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 17, which saw the aerial spray ban as valid and constitutional.

"I don't think it is unconstitutional because the protection of the citizens of Davao City is the utmost concern of the city council," Zubiri said.

Just like Bukidnon, he said, no one has questioned its total log ban since 1990.

"It is a provincial ordinance; no one can question that because we did it to serve our citizens, to protect our environment," Zubiri added. 

Spraying of chemicals using planes, he said, is like "aerial bombing," posing danger to the public.

Aerial spraying is used in around 900 of the 5,000 hectares of land planted to banana in Davao City, Councilor Leonardo Avila III told reporters in 2007. 

The appellate court's 47-page decision cited that the ban was contrary to the equal protection clause. "Because it does not classify which substances are prohibited from being applied aerially even as reasonable distinctions should be made in terms of the hazards, safety, or beneficial effects of liquid substances to the public health, livelihood, and the environment," the ruling said.

It cited that RTC Branch 17 Judge Renato Fuentes "committed an error in upholding the validity (of the ordinance) notwithstanding its apparent constitutional infirmities."

Four of five appellate court justices voted for the decision namely justices Michael P. Elbinias, Jane Aurora C. Lantion, Rodrigo F. Lim Jr., and Normandie B. Pizarro.

Justice Romulo V. Borja, presiding justice, dissented, arguing that in any challenge mounted against the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance, the overarching principle is that the acts of the legislature — national or local — enjoy the presumption of validity. 

At the decision’s receiving end is Davao City's banana industry that has battled against the city government and people’s organizations and non-government organizations who lobbied for the legislation

The Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association's (PBGEA) has opposed the ban and has cited it as detrimental to their industry, banana being among Davao's top exports. 

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte signed the ordinance in February 2007 amid last-minute lobbying by PBGEA.

The ordinance was supposed to be implemented starting March 23, 2007. But PBGEA has challenged its constitutionality before the Regional Trial Court in Davao City and the Court of Appeals in Cagayan
de Oro.

The CA decision was met with ridicule by the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Citizens Against Aerial Spraying), which backed the ordinance from the hall of Davao's city council to the streets near Cagayan de Oro's Court of Appeals.

The group has traveled with the case from the Regional Trial Court in Davao to the CA in Cagayan de Oro last year, threading local government and church support in Bukidnon.

Bukidnon became the first province in Mindanao to ban aerial spraying in 2001. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)