Spray planes fly again in Davao as CA issues TRO vs city gov’t

The two-page resolution of Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez, of the appellate court's Mindanao Station 22nd Division granted the appeal of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) for a temporary restraining order (TRO) for two months.

"This court resolves to grant the application of the TRO effective for a period of sixty days from notice, restraining the trial court and all other persons or entity acting in its behalf from implementing the decision affirming the constitutionality of the assailed ordinance," the court said.

Lopez's resolution found merit in PBGEA's appeal. In its appeal, PBGEA claimed "they have a legal right to be protected from an unreasonable, oppressive, void, and unconstitutional piece of local legislation totally banning aerial spraying.”

PBGEA furnished MindaNews a copy of the CA ruling on Friday. The CA resolution was made on November 16 and formally issued only on November 23 after PBGEA posted a P1 million bond. The bond was to answer for any damage, which the city government or the communities may suffer by reason of the TRO.

The TRO immediately bars the city government from enforcing the ordinance it passed on March 23 this year. Planes used to spray pesticides in the plantations north of Davao City had been grounded since September 23 when the Regional Trial Court in Davao City declared the ordinance valid and constitutional.

Lopez also directed both parties to file "simultaneously their respective memorandum for the resolution of the writ of preliminary injunction in 15 days from notice."

The PBGEA welcomed the CA’s decision. "This is a source of great relief," PBGEA said in a statement e-mailed to MindaNews Friday afternoon.

"This means there is no ban in the meantime and we can spray," PBGEA spokesperson Anthony Sasin in a text message to MindaNews.

PBGEA had argued that the ban would cause substantial financial loss in the shift to other means of applying pesticides, including a fungicide to stop Black Sigatoka disease, which has been attacking the plants recently. The group said that “the abrupt change will cause hazards to workers and residents and the adverse impact to the export market."

The city government said it would appeal the CA decision, which it downplayed as “not a decision on the merits of the case”.

"We respect the order of the Court of Appeals,” City Administrator Wendell Avisado told reporters in a text message. “Anyway, said order is simply an interlocutory and not an adjudication on the merits." Sources at the City Hall said that the City Legal Office would file a motion for reconsideration with the CA.

"So we have to work hard on the main case and convince the CA that the RTC committed no error when it maintained the constitutionality of the city ordinance and ruled in favor of the city government," he added.

The Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), a group supporting the ban on aerial spraying said it was sad over the decision. “It’s definitely sad news especially for the communities who were looking forward to a toxic shower-free Christmas," Lia Jasmine Esquillo, IDIS executive director said in a text message to MindaNews.

She said “corporate greed prevailed” in the CA resolution. "But we remain firm and committed to fighting for the implementation of the ordinance all the way to the Supreme Court," she said adding the third party interveners in the case would meet on Monday.

PBGEA appealed before the CA on October 18 this year the decision of Regional Trial Court  Judge Renato Fuentes, who ruled that the city ordinance that banned aerial spraying was valid and constitutional. Fuentes issued the ruling on September 23 this year.

On October 24, the CA directed the city government and interveners “to show cause
why PBGEA's plea for TRO should not be granted”. The city government responded on November 5 and the third party interveners on November 12.

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

Davao City would become the second local government to ban aerial spraying in Mindanao's vast agricultural plantations. Bukidnon imposed a similar ban in 2002. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)