COMMENT: Mayor’s resolve on test

Unable to stop the City Council from unanimously enacting the ordinance, the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) asked Secretary Yap to intercede for them – if not abort the ordinance, forge a compromise.

The Ordinance

The city law, “An ordinance banning aerial spraying as an agricultural practice in all agricultural activities by all agricultural entities in Davao City”, applies also to mango plantations and others, not just to the banana plantations — the immediate concern now.

A well-studied ordinance, it is based on a study, the Jacinto Report, and the position papers from various sectors including pro-environmentalists MAAS (Mamayang Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying) and IDIS (Interface Development Interventions) and PBGEA.

Mayor Duterte had commissioned a team led by City Planning and Development Coordinator Engr. Luis Mario Jacinto to investigate aerial spraying in response to complaints from affected residents as far as 30 years back.

Inputs at the hearing must have moved the Council to modify the Report. For instance:

n The Jacinto team did not find “scientific basis to ban aerial spraying” at the time of the study. But the Council banned aerial spraying, nixing the recommendation to allow this “only in existing agricultural farms with a compact area of no less than 50 hectares” but to prohibit it in similar future farms.

n It recommended “a buffer zone of not less than 50 meters” between the plantation and adjacent “communities/houses, major rivers and city and national roads”. The Council provided a 30-meter buffer zone instead.

n It recommended, without specifying, “a phase out period if aerial spraying is banned”. The Council provided a 3-month phase out period.

The ordinance was unanimously approved – all present, no abstention, not a “Nay”.

Within 15 days from the signing, the ordinance will be published in two city newspapers to become a law. After that, the banana growers have three months to phase out aerial spraying.

Main Concern

All the City Council members, in enacting the ordinance, and Mayor Duterte, in signing it, had only one main concern: A clean environment and the health of the people especially of those residing near the plantations.

The mayor declared: “Our duty is to protect the people of Davao City.”

They are aware of the big amount of tax revenue the city will lose. “But that’s the figures. We are talking about health here,” the mayor said.

In anticipation of Secretary Yap’s intervention, Duterte remarked, “My stand is to protect the health of the people. We might have a happy compromise in the future.” He made it clear he is not against the plantations.

Opposition

In protesting the passage of the ordinance, the growers manifested their main concerns to be their profit and the quality of their banana in order to remain most competitive in the foreign markets.

To spray the bananas from the ground will need the construction of road network through the plantations. This will amount to billions of pesos taken out of their profits.

They are asking for a phase out period of 25 years – a great insult to the intelligence of the city mayor, the council members, and the people. That’s more than one generation! The big joke will render the ordinance meaningless.

They wanted the no-ban recommendation of the Jacinto Report adopted. They agreed to the call for “strict regulation, not banning”. By this they exposed their callousness, their utter lack of concern for the environment, the health of the people and their human rights.

They were opting for “strict regulation” when banned. They did not need a law for them to strictly regulate their spraying operations. They should blame themselves for the ban.

They must have known what Mayor Duterte had seen when he said the law will take its normal course: “It has something to do with the wisdom of how the chemical is being used.”

Secretary Yap

Secretary Yap came to Davao City twice in a week’s interval – first to confer with the banana growers and next to see them again, talk to Mayor Duterte and admonish Davao City through the press of what he perceived as the ill-effects of the ordinance

Warning that the local banana industry, with the banning of aerial spraying, will produce low quality banana and lose its competitiveness in the foreign market, he appealed to the Davaoeños “not to hand over the Philippine banana industry to foreigners”.

He warned of the billions of pesos the industry, the Davao City government and the national government will lose in terms of income and revenues.

He was confident of finding a “win-win solution” to resolve “the conflict between the industry and the community”. The conflict has been going on for 30 years or so, why did the DA not impose strict regulations in aerial spraying?

He believed that other local government units in Southeastern Mindanao will not follow the example of Davao City since “the Department of Health has not declared the fungicide used in aerial spraying harmful to human health”.

When has the DOH declared hazardous to health deadly chemicals from mines in order to prevent deaths and the poisoning of the environment? The aerial spraying and the complaints of the people have been going on for years. Where’s the DOH?

Yap also said that “the banana exporters and the Department of Agriculture would take whatever measures allowed them by law to come up with that solution”. While he was referring to “win-win” solution, could he be hinting at a court restraining order against the ordinance?

After a three-hour closed-door meeting with Mayor Duterte, Yap declared: “As far as I am concerned, everything is still a status quo right now. We are on track”, implying that a “win-win” solution — surely favoring the planters — will either stop or water down the implementation of the ordinance.

Pressure On

The pressure that the DA and Malacañang will apply to Davao City in the behalf of the banana industry at the expense of the people and the environment should never be taken for granted. Will Mayor Duterte buckle down?

However, this is certain: In no other place than Southeastern Mindanao, particularly Davao City, will the banana industry find a more lucrative home. The growers will stay. They will invest on road network to continue producing quality banana to be most competitive. That will only be a one-step backward.

Mayor Duterte on one end and the banana industry and the DA on the other are in a game of chicken. The first to flinch loses. The Davaoeños are rooting, confident and proud that their mayor will not chicken out.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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