“I lament and deplore this despicable act that diminishes the value of the human person in the name of business and profit,” said Caloocan Bishop Deogracias S. Iñiguez, Jr. in a statement faxed to the EcoWaste Coalition, an affiliate of the National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS).
The NTFAAS has been rallying support in Metro Manila for the Mindanao-based Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) to compel responsible government officials to abide by their sworn duty of protecting the public health and the environment.
Bishop Iñiguez who just celebrated his 24th Episcopal anniversary last Saturday described the issue as “an urgent humanitarian, health and environmental concern affecting the voiceless rural poor in the island of Mindanao.”
“Aerial spraying indiscriminately showers community people, including defenseless children, with toxic substances that are meant to exterminate pests,” noted Bishop Iñiguez who also heads the Public Affairs Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
“The Church in her prophetic role regards this issue as an urgent matter that has to be addressed head-on if only to stop an avertable corporate practice that almost certainly intrudes upon the dignity and health of the person, while sullying the environment with harmful chemicals,” explained Bishop Iñiguez .
“Commercial logic cannot justify the continued breach of the poor people’s inalienable right to life and to clean air, safe water and toxic-free environment that the Church treasures dearly,” he pointed out, adding that “every economic pursuit must serve and enhance the dignity of the human person and preserve the integrity of creation.”
“I therefore add my voice to the voices of the rural poor of Mindanao and enjoin the authorities in the government and the industry, as a just, preventive and precautionary step, to halt the demeaning and damaging practice of aerial spraying with steadfast resolve and urgency,” said
Bishop Iñiguez cited the CBCP pastoral letter “Upholding the Sanctity of Life,” issued in November 2008, that says “no material gain can equate the value of life.”
Advocates for ecological agriculture, chemical safety and human rights lauded Bishop Iñiguez for manifesting his earnest concern for the wellbeing of the rural poor in Mindanao.
“We thank and praise the good bishop for affirming his faith-centered solidarity with the pollution victims in their legitimate battle against chemical trespass. This beautiful expression of unity with the poor empowers those who have less in life to believe and work for the dawning of ecological conversion,” stated Fr. Glenn Melo of the Sustainable Agriculture Apostolate of the Diocese of Tandag and Steering Committee member of the EcoWaste Coalition
To drive his call for “harmony in all of creation,” Bishop Iñiguez cited the latest encyclical letter on “Caritas in Veritate” of Pope Benedict XVI, which reminds the faithful that “environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”
In the same encyclical letter, the Pope emphasized that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.”
Bishop Iñiguez expressed his hope that the poor people’s plea for dignity and justice will resonate into the hearts of government and business leaders.
Bishop Iñiguez joins a growing list of Church leaders who have publicly spoken against the hazards of aerial spraying and the need for action to protect communities from dehumanizing exposure to toxic harm.
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma had earlier said “the Dabawenyos fight is not theirs alone. Their fight is our fight too. For we belong to one home—Mother Earth.” Malaybalay Bishop Honesto Pacana also said that the struggle of MAAS “is about justice and human rights for the common good,” while Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo criticized aerial spraying as “inhuman” because it degrades the dignity of people.