Legal Eagles Support Farmers’ Quest for Health and Justice as Public Pressure on PGMA to Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides Rises

Manila. Top-notch lawyers have joined hands with 21 farmers from Mindanao in seeking a ban on the aerial spraying of pesticides in giant commercial banana plantations that is adversely affecting the public health and the environment.

The visiting farmers from Mindanao are members of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) from Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao City. They have come to Manila to ask President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to act on their plight by ordering an outright ban on aerial spraying.

At a press conference held today at the premises of Caritas Manila where the 21 farmers are camping out, lawyers Christian Monsod, a former chairman of the Commission on Elections; Antonio Oposa, a recent recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award; and Magistrado Mendoza, a noted practitioner of alternative legal service, took up the cudgels for the pollution impacted communities and explained why Malacañang should side with them.

Atty. Oposa invoked the golden rule – “do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you” – as he called upon President Arroyo and officials of the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Health to act fast on the farmers’ grievances.

“Please study carefully and fulfill your legal mandates. Failure to do that by a public official can result in personal liability. Let us apply the highest law, higher than legislative enactments, higher even than the Constitution. Let us apply the golden rule,” reminded Atty. Oposa who has been cited internationally for his exemplary work in protecting Mother Nature through environmental litigation, advocacies and networking.

Oposa recently grabbed headlines for asking the Supreme Court to cite several members of Arroyo’s cabinet in contempt of court for failing to report on what their offices have been doing to clean up Manila Bay.

“These are small farmers with a birth-right to a healthful environment. These farmers need help because the government is foot-dragging on the issue of aerial spraying,” said Atty. Christian

Citing information from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN agency, Monsod pointed out that the small farmer with less than 2 hectares, numbering 400 million worldwide, is the answer to the growing problem of food insecurity.

“It is the right of every citizen, rich and poor, young and old, to breathe clean air. Such right should be respected and upheld at all times. Any violation of such right gives rise to a legitimate action against the violator and the government that fails to protect and uphold such right,” stressed Atty. Magistrado Mendoza, partner at Dellosa, Mendoza, Bag-ao and Manuel law firm.

Lawyers Marlon Manuel of the Alternative Law Group, Mitch Bastasa and Claire Demaisip of Kaisahan and Bobbie Santa Maria of the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal were also present to lend their support to the farmers-led movement premised on protecting basic human rights and applying the precautionary principle.

The support from the lawyers and from various member groups of the Manila-based National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS) came about as the marginalized farmers train their sights on pressuring President Arroyo to make a conclusive order that will protect the farmers from toxic harm.

“Nagpapasalamat kami sa suporta ni Atty. Oposa at iba pang abogado. Ang isyu namin laban sa aerial spraying ay lehitimong isyu ng mga maliliit na magsasaka na may malaking kontribusyon sa pag-ikot ng ekonomiya ng ating bansa,” said Lizel Compas, MAAS farmer leader from Compostela Valley. (We thank Atty. Oposa and the other lawyers. Our issue against aerial spraying is a legitimate issue of the small farmers who have huge contribution to country’s economic cycle.”)

“Ang nakataya dito ay ang kalusugan at buhay ng mga magsasaka at ng aming mga minamahal na pamilya. Nananawagan kami sa dagliang pag-aksyon ni Pangulong Arroyo sa pamamagitan ng paglalabas ng executive order na magbabawal sa aerial spraying,” he emphasized. (“What is at stake here is the health and life of the farmers and our beloved families. We call for President Arroyo’s urgent action through an executive order that will ban aerial spraying.”)

During the last several weeks, MAAS and NTFAAS have spoken with Secretaries Atienza, Duque and Yap and organized protest actions at their respective offices, but to no avail.

While the DOH Executive Committee has already recommended a halt on aerial spraying as a precaution against toxic harm, the government has yet to make a decisive action banning aerial spraying nationwide.

According to both MAAS and the NTFAAS, the many decades of not having a policy banning aerial spraying has illegally and immorally exposed the farmers to a great injustice that President Arroyo now need to rectify.