Farmers storm Makati offices of banana plantation companies

Makati City – Stop your poison rain.

This is the message of Mindanao farmers when they stormed the offices of banana plantation companies in Makati City to continue their campaign to ban aerial spraying which is widely used as an agricultural practice of these companies.

Members of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) brought a sack of banana blossoms (also known as puso ng saging) to the offices of Marsman-Drysdale Group and Dole Stanfilco Philippines to demand to the owners and operators of these companies to end their ‘immoral’ practice now.

“Mabuti pa ang saging may puso, pero kayo (banana companies) wala. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ban aerial spray,” said one of their streamers.

“Ang mukhang pera ay walang pusong makatao. They are those who sacrifice people for profits,” said Max de Mesa of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocate and member of the National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS).

The Marsman-Drysdale Group which holds office in Philamlife Tower along Paseo de Roxaas and Dole Stanfilco along Ayala Avenue are members of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), an aggrupation of 18 banana companies which is blocking the clamor to ban aerial spraying.

The other members of PBGEA include: AMS Group of Companies, Inc., Sumifru Philippines, ANFLO Group of Companies, Alip River Development and Export Corporation, Del Monte Fresh Produce Philippines, La Frutera Incorporated, Lapanday Foods Corporation, Hijo Resources Corporation, Diamond Farms Inc, Dizon Group of Companies, Nader and Ebrahim Hassan Philippines, Saranggani Agricultural Company Inc, Nova Vista Management and Development Corporation, Tristar Group of Banana Companies, Aztropex, Inc., and Unifrutti Services, Inc.

“Ma-konsyensya naman kayo, tigilan nyo na ang pagpapahirap sa amin,” said Lizel Compas of MAAS Compostela Valley. Banana plantations of DOLE proliferate in their area and routinely aerial spray.

“Marsman-Drysdale, Dole Stanfilco and the rest of the PBGEA members should stop arguing that aerial spraying is safe because a Department of Health (DOH) study has revealed that pesticides were found in peoples’ blood coming from the drift and therefore harm them,” said Rei Panaligan, coordinator of the environmental group Ecowaste Coalition, also an NTFAAS member.

To support their study, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque and his executive committee recently wrote a recommendation that aerial spraying must be stopped until the industries can prove of its safety.

The DOH resolution also explained that there is voluminous evidence from studies all around the globe that pesticides used in aerial spraying cause various health effects to workers and communities living near plantations. “Drift is unavoidable whenever pesticides are applied. Based on existing studies, drift is greatest from aerial applications, where almost 40 percent of pesticides applied is lost to drift. In this case, the residential areas and schools near the plantations are exposed to considerable risks to the effect of drift because of the location.”

The Archdiocese of Manila led by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales recently wrote PBGEA Executive Director Stephen Antig a letter on 26 October saying that “we are one with all affected people in Mindanao in working for their delivarnce from this immoral practice of aerial spraying that infringes upon human health and dignity. We cannot allow their suffering to go on any longer for anything that offends people, especially the least of our brothers and sisters, is an offense to God.”

“These banana companies should heed the call of the bishops,” Panaligan added.

The bishops revealed that PBGEA is owned or operated by prominent families in the country such as the family of former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo, the Floirendos who are the political bigwigs of Davao del Norte, the families Ayala, Dizon and Soriano who are the business magnates of Davao City, and multi-national corporations.

The bishops also wrote President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a letter asking her to issue an executive order banning aerial spraying.

Executive Secretary Edurardo Ermita in a Malacanang dialogue together with bishops, former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod and MAAS, said that he supports the DOH resolution that aerial spraying is a public health hazard that must be stopped and promised to urge PGMA to issue a policy for an immediate ban. Environment Secretary Jose Atienza Jr. and representatives of the Department of Agriculture (DA) agreed with Ermita.