UP Mindanao asks City Hall to postpone uprooting of Bt eggplants

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 December) — University of the Philippines Mindanao has asked City Hall for a five-day reprieve of its order for the uprooting of the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplants planted in an experimental lot within the school’s campus in Mintal as part of the field tests for the genetically altered eggplant variety.

City Agriculturist Leonardo Avila said he was about to supervise the uprooting of the controversial crop after UP Mindanao repeatedly ignored the city mayor’s letters.

A truck full of organic farmers and some UP Mindanao students had volunteered to assist the staff from the City Agriculturist’s Office to uproot the eggplants when the UP Mindanao’s legal counsel, Atty. Gwen Sorela, asked for a five-day reprieve.

Avila said he called UP Mindanao to tell them he was on his way to supervise the uprooting but that Sorela asked for a reprieve as the school wanted to appeal to the mayor to reconsider her decision.

He said UP Mindanao will submit its written appeal on Friday, although, he added, the mayor is not likely to grant it.

Mayor Sara Duterte ordered the uprooting of the controversial experiment on Monday, citing that UP Mindanao complied only with three of the 15 bio-safety requirements for the conduct of the field trials.

Duterte based her decision on Avila’s report, which pointed out the project proponents’ failure to conduct public consultations and inform city officials about the field trials.

He said the project failed to generate enough public support because UP Mindanao scientists merely pursued the project without even informing the community about it.

Paragraph G of Section 8 of the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order number 8, which provides for the conduct of field tests, requires applicants to notify and invite comments from the barangay, city and municipality on the conduct of field testing.

“They did not even inform City Hall, and repeatedly ignored the mayor’s earlier communications,” Avila said.

In a strongly-worded letter addressed to UP Mindanao Chancellor Gilda C. Rivero, the mayor warned that the city government will be forced to uproot the GMO eggplant if they failed to comply with the order.

“The city government is ordering you to cease and desist the operation of the Bt talong (eggplant) field trials, and to uproot all existing Bt talong specimens which have been planted within your area. Otherwise, we shall be constrained to supervise the uprooting of the said specimens,” Duterte said in a December 13 letter. She ordered the City Agriculturist’s Office to “monitor compliance.”

Instead of replying to MindaNews’ request for comment on the mayor’s order, UP Mindanao’s information department sent instead a statement containing the claims of an entomologist, Mario Navasero, who vouched for the safety of the field trials by citing previous experiments in other parts of the country that purportedly showed no signs of harm to insects other than the eggplant fruit and shoot borer worm, the prime target of the Bacillus thuringiensis, the bacterium inserted into the genes of eggplants.

“The results from Confined Field Tests in Pangasinan, Bicol and Laguna have shown that there is no difference in the occurrence of arthropods between the Bt and the non-Bt eggplant plots,” the statement from UP Mindanao quoted Navasero as having said.

Duterte, who is still in Cagayan de Oro city, had called Avila on Thursday to ask whether UP Mindanao has already complied with the order. But after learning that UP Mindanao has not done so, she has ordered Avila to supervise the uprooting.

Avila said the mayor was incensed over how UP professors in charge of the testing had flaunted the mayor’s alleged support to the project, even as they ignored the mayor’s December 6 letter.

UP Mindanao also pursued the field tests, defying the strong stance of the community against it.

After the UP Mindanao lawyer asked for a five-day reprieve, Avila was also asked to coordinate with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) for the “protocols to be observed in uprooting.”

“We are going to follow protocols for uprooting after we failed to follow protocols in planting,” Avila said.

Angelica Castro, coordinator of Go Organic Mindanao, lauded the mayor’s move, saying it is consistent with the city’s Organic Agriculture Ordinance.

She said that genetically modified crops like Bt eggplant cannot co-exist with local organically grown produce.

She also pointed out that the recently issued resolutions from Barangay Bago Oshiro and Mintal which called for the immediate cessation of the field trials also added weight to the decision of the city.

“UP Mindanao will have to follow the order of the Mayor. Arrogance has no space in Davao City,” said Tom Villarin, executive director of SIMCARRD, which supports organic rice farmers in Mindanao. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)