Thus wrote citizens from across the globe who today petitioned President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to issue an Executive Order that will safeguard helpless rural poor communities in Mindanao from the toxic effects of aerial pesticide operations.
In an outpouring of concern, over 200 citizens and groups from 45 countries give their ‘thumbs up’ to grassroots opposition against unwanted exposure to harmful chemicals sprayed from low-flying aircraft by big banana plantations to control black sigatoka disease in cavendish bananas.
“In the spirit of global citizenship, we state our solidarity with the women and men of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Citizens Against Aerial Spraying) and many other people’s organizations from the various banana-growing provinces in southern Philippines who are asserting their inherent right not to be harmed by aerial pesticide operations,” the petitioners said.
“We laud them for coming together to halt a clear and present assault against their individual and collective rights not to be subjected to chemical exposure. We support them in their just quest to keep harmful chemicals away from their bodies, homes and farms,” reiterated the petitioners.
Among those who signed the petition were noted public interest scientists and advocates, including professor emeritus of chemistry and zero waste champion Dr. Paul Connett and citizen science advocate Dr. Joseph Parrish of USA, 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Yuyun Ismawati of Indonesia, pesticide activist Sarojeni Rengam of Malaysia, endosulfan ban crusader Jayakumar Chelaton of India, anti-DDT health expert Dr. Paul Saoke of Kenya, environmental epidemiologist Rico Euripidou of South Africa, and environmental justice advocate Jeffer Castelo Branco of Brazil.
Swedish environmental engineer Andreas Prevodnik told PGMA that “aerial spraying is an inaccurate method of applying pesticides onto crops. Many non-target areas are affected by spray drift. Allowing the continued use of this application method, is an efficient method of speeding up the degradation of health and ecosystems in the Philippines.”
“You now have the chance of making a difference for the future living conditions of your nation. A national ban of aerial pesticide applications may be one of your many decisions that future generations in the Philippines will be most grateful for,” Prevodnik pointed out.
In their petition, the concerned global citizens appealed to PGMA to take the cue from Health Secretary Duque who, along with the DOH Executive Committee, recommended a stop to the aerial spraying of pesticides.
“Now that the country’s number one public health agency has spoken, we respectfully urge you to issue without delay an Executive Order banning the agricultural practice of aerial spraying that will reflect and strengthen the position of the DOH Executive Committee,” the petition reads.
“We further urge you to use the power of your office to direct the banana industry to honor their corporate social responsibility and cooperate towards achieving the recommendations set out by the DOH in the greater interest of public health,” the petition concludes.
In the same petition, the global citizens commended Health Secretary Duque and the department’s Executive Committee for adopting the following recommendations as contained in a DOH-commissioned study that was undertaken by experts from the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology and the University of the Philippines – National Poison Management and Control Center:
1. Establish a health surveillance system to detect effects of chronic pesticide exposures.
2. Perform systematic and periodic monitoring of pesticide residues and metabolites in the environment and do remediation where necessary.
3. Develop and strengthen guidelines for protecting communities from pesticide contamination from plantations.
4. Stop the aerial spraying of pesticides in the light of the precautionary principle espoused by the Rio Declaration to which the Philippines is a signatory.
5. Shift to organic farming techniques to prevent harm to health and the environment that can result from acute and chronic pesticide exposures.
According to the petitioners, “such a policy based on prevention and precaution will surely contribute to the national implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) that aims to minimize and eliminate the harms caused by exposure to toxic substances.”