Protesters block runway in South Cotabato to stop aerial spraying

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 November) — Hundreds of residents barricaded the runway of the community airport in Surallah town in South Cotabato on Monday in protest of the aerial spraying activities of a banana plantation company operating in the area.

Around 300 protesters gathered at the Allah Valley Airport in Surallah at around 4 a.m. and occupied a portion of the runway in a bid to stop the aerial spraying activities of foreign-backed Sumifru Philippines Corporation.

The company, which operates banana plantations in Surallah and T’boli towns, had been using the airport as base of its aerial spraying operations.

Omar Azarcon, coordinator of the protest action, said they launched the mobilization to pressure local government leaders to decisively put a stop to the aerial spraying activities of Sumifru.

He said the protesters are composed of parishioners from Surallah and other areas within the Diocese of Marbel, which covers the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani and this city.

“We’re calling on the provincial government of South Cotabato and the municipal governments of areas affected by the aerial spraying activities to pass ordinances that will totally ban them,” he said in a radio interview.

Citing results of their recent fact-finding mission in the affected areas, Azarcon claimed that they have documented three deaths and numerous cases of various illnesses that were directly caused by the aerial spraying activities.

He said the three fatalities came from communities situated near the banana plantations of Sumifru in T’boli town.

He said they found a significant number of residents who have been suffering from various illnesses like asthma and contact dermatitis in the affected communities.

“These were caused by herbicides and fungicides sprayed by airplanes commissioned by Sumifru these past several years,” Azarcon said.

Fr. Joy Pelino, coordinator of the Diocese of Marbel’s Social Action Center, said that aside from health hazards, the aerial spraying activities also pose serious threats to the area’s environment.

He said the chemicals sprayed by Sumifru’s airplanes could contaminate the Allah river system, which traverses the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Pelino said Allah River’s headwaters are located in the municipalities of Lake Sebu and T’boli, where the banana plantations are located.

Azarcon said they will sustain their protest actions until local officials would act on the matter.

The municipal government of Surallah issued a five-day permit or until November 23 for the protest actions.

“But we might extend our mobilization if we will not get decisive actions from our officials,” he said.

Sumifru officials were not immediately available for comment.

Sources said the company already pulled out from the airport on Sunday the aircraft and chemicals that it uses for the aerial spraying activities. (MindaNews)