Court temporarily blocks aerial spray ban

In a decision dated June 20 but made public only on Thursday, RTC Judge Renato Fuentes favored the petition of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) to temporarily halt the implementation of the ordinance.

The court decision moved the effectivity of City Ordinance 03-090-07 Series of 2007 from June 23 to September 23. In the next three months, it will be status quo for PBGEA member companies as the city government cannot impose the ban yet.

Fuentes considered PBGEA's claim that the three-month phase-out period set by the city council when it approved the ordinance was too short for them to shift to an alternative method of spraying.

The judge pointed out that the three months given by the city government for the banana industry to shift method was "unreasonable" and rendered the industry physically impossible to adopt.

Fuentes said the city government even took at least six months to deliberate on passing the legislation.

During the hearings, PBGEA presented witnesses attesting it would need at least three years to shift to an alternative method vice aerial spraying and an investment of at least P400 million to do that.

Fuentes pointed out the court has recognized PBGEA's right "anticipating a certainty of grave and irreparable damage and injuries the petitioner will suffer if the remedy is not granted."

"To ensure the protection of substantial right and interest of petitioner, recognizing its vested right, in embarking into a vast multifarious investment, not only for their material benefit and gain but for the benefit and advantage of the City of Davao as well as in terms of income and employment of the people," he said.

Fuentes, however, deferred decision on the constitutionality of the ordinance, saying both parties have to present more evidence in another court proceeding.

The court decision gave the banana industry and the city government three more months to gather evidence for the decision on constitutionality.

"Within such period, whether petitioner (PBGEA, et al.) will go into other method of ground spraying or not, the court will definitely decide this case on the merits on the question of constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the assailed ordinance in its entirety," Fuentes said in his nine-page decision.

Fuentes said he cannot squarely rule and pass judgment on the matter at this stage of the proceedings “not only because of a vast supporting evidence of opposing parties to promote their respective side (but also because of the) very limited period for the court to warrant an exhaustive and thorough examination.” He said this would require another court proceeding.

The decision, which came after marathon hearings were held in the run-up to the ordinance's date of effectivity, came three days before the end of the phaseout period.

Passed on March 23, the ordinance was scheduled for effectivity on Saturday, June 23.

PBGEA filed a petition late April for temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction together with their complaint that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

In a press release, environmentalist group Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) said three more months will prolong the agony of the people complaining against the effects of aerial spraying to their health and the environment.

"For 90 more days, we will be bathing in chemicals being used in aerial spraying. This also means that our children and the rest of the people residing close and within these banana plantations will be tailed by gradual and painful death — all because of corporate greed," said Dagohoy Magaway, the group's spokesperson. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)