Scientist Harassment Suit

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) strongly condemns the latest move by banana companies in the Philippines to harass health rights defenders in an attempt to derail the campaign to ban the aerial spraying of pesticides in Southern Philippines.

Last January 5, 2010, a complaint was filed with the regional office of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) against Dr. Romeo Quijano, a professor at the University of the Philippines Manila and president of the PAN Philippines, as well as 10 other doctors and one engineer. Two local officials who claimed to represent several residents of Sitio Kamukhaan (Camocaan) in the town of Hagonoy, Davao del Sur province complained against the alleged unethical conduct the committed by Dr. Quijano and doctors who conducted a scientific study commissioned by the government’s Department of Health (DOH) on the impact of aerial spraying of an adjacent banana plantation on the residents’ health.

The DOH study, conducted in 2006, found that 82 percent of respondents from Kamukhaan were indirectly exposed to aerially sprayed pesticides; 52 percent of whom exhibit symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning. It was used as a basis for the DOH to recommend in 2009 a ban on aerial spraying of pesticides. Earlier, the Davao City council passed a resolution to enact the ban, but banana companies led by the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) opposed this in court, and the matter is now pending with the Supreme Court.

In the PRC complaint, the residents alleged that the DOH team of doctors did not inform them of the intent of their medical investigations, and disputed that they and their families were adversely affected by pesticides exposure. Specific complaints were also directed against Dr. Quijano, whom they claimed of falsely publishing information that first came out in a Philippine Post report in 2000, and for which Dr. Quijano and his journalist daughter Ilang-Ilang have been sued by Lapanday Agricultural Development Corp. They said that both reports “put the people of Camocaan to shame.”

“The complaint against Dr. Quijano is a rehash of a dismissed libel suit and a civil case for damages. Now the companies want to destroy the professional life and reputation of Dr. Quijano and the other doctors who were merely fulfilling their moral and social obligations to the community-at-large,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PAN AP executive director.

In the counter-affidavits of the DOH team led by Drs. Allan Dionisio and composed of Lynn Panganiban, Carissa Dioquino, Nelia Cortes-Maramba, Joselito Pascual, Jose Paciano Reyes, Lurenda Westergaard, Erle Castillo, Nerissa Dando and Engr. Ana Francisco-Rivera, they said that the health assessment was done with the knowledge of all stakeholders (including PBGEA) and the consent of pre-selected residents. They also pointed out that two of the complainants are minors, putting into question the voluntariness of the execution of their affidavits.Finally, they said that “[T]his is a public issue with far-reaching implications. The shame, if there is at all, belongs somewhere else and not to the people of Camocaan.”

Meanwhile, in his counter-affidavit, Dr. Quijano said that since his initial report, which garnered the attention and concern of the national and international health and environmental community, the company has stepped up efforts to win over or buy off residents. “[S]everal of the interviewees were summoned by Ladeco and were made to sign statements contradicting their previous statements recorded on video. Some of those summoned reported that they were intimidated by the company, and that the company gave certain favors to obtain the signed affidavits which do not reflect the truth,” he said.

The company has used and continued to use several pesticides (such as Diazinon, Paraquat, Glyphosate, Carbofuran, Chlorothalonil, Mancozeb, etc.) scientifically known to cause adverse effects that have been observed to occur in Kamukhaan. Some pesticides have been classified by international bodies to be “highly hazardous” or have been reported to cause cancer, reproductive disorders, congenital diseases, disorder of the immune system, blood diseases, skin diseases, and other ailments.

“Dr. Quijano and a community organizer in Kamukhaan have in fact received death threats. Despite these, they have not been deterred from initiating or participating in public awareness activities, lobbying, and campaigning for a ban on aerial spraying, together with local people’s organizations and non-government environmental organizations,” said Rengam.

Dr. Quijano, aside from being president of PAN Philippines and a member of PAN AP’s steering council, is also the former co-chair of International POPs Elimination Network, Bureau member of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development and Standing Committee member of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety. He is an admired and well-respected member of the international scientific community and was a recipient of the Jennifer Altman Award for Science and Public Interest. His co-respondents in the PRC complaint are also well-esteemed in the Philippine scientific community. For example, Dr. Maramba is Professor Emeritus of the UP Manila and a multi-awarded medical doctor and scientist both at the national and international level. Dr. Panganiban is the head of the National Poison Information and Management Center; Dr. Dioquino is the president of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology; and Dr. Dionisio is a professor at the UP Manila College of Medicine.

“That banana companies have dared to falsely accuse these health rights defenders of unethical behavior using the very same residents that they have served shows how low and dirty these companies can be at their game,” said Rengam.

PAN AP reiterates that the ban on aerial spraying of pesticides is the most just and rightful response of the Philippine government to the protracted suffering of affected communities, of which Kamukhaan is only one example. Aerial spraying of pesticides is totally banned in Denmark, Estonia, Slovenia, and are partially banned in Italy, Cyprus, Austria and Belgium. The call to ban aerial spraying is a worldwide trend, with calls resonating in the US, Canada, New Zealand, India, and some countries in Europe. PAN AP is in the forefront of this campaign as well.

Contact:  Sarojeni V. Rengam
Executive Director

PAN Asia and the Pacific
P.O. Box 1170, 10850, Penang, Malaysia
Contact Number: +604 657 0271 or +604 656 0381

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) is one of the five regional centres of PAN, a global network working to eliminate the human and environmental harm caused by pesticides, and to promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture.   PAN AP while linked to the international network, has evolved with a strong Asian perspective, linked with the movements of peasants, agricultural workers and rural women and guided by the strong leadership of grassroots and advocacy groups.  Our vision is a society that is truly democratic, equal, just, culturally diverse, and based on food sovereignty, gender justice and environmental sustainability.

PAN AP’s work areas are focused on advancing and asserting food sovereignty and biodiversity based ecological agriculture; strengthening rural women’s empowerment and protecting people’s health and the environment from highly hazardous pesticides and campaigns on protecting the rice heritage of Asia as well as genetic engineering in food and agriculture.   Currently, PAN AP has 108 partner groups in Asia and the Pacific region, and it outreaches to more than 390 CSOs and grassroots organisations in Asia and globally.

Ban Aerial Spray Task Force
c/o IDIS
263 Circle A Street, Ecoland Phase 1, Davao City
Media Contact: Mael Paranial, 299-4552