Sec. Duque Urged to Champion Public Health over Big Banana Profits

Manila. Farmers from far-flung villages in Mindanao today trooped to the headquarters of the Department of Health (DOH) to deliver a “health advisory” to Secretary Francisco Duque III: “take decisive action versus aerial spraying.”

Together with their throng of supporters in Manila, the representatives of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) urged Secretary Duque to act with utmost urgency to remedy the health and environmental injustice caused by the aerial spraying of pesticides in banana plantations in Mindanao.

At the instigation of Mindanao-based MAAS and Manila-based National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS), the DOH Executive Committee will meet today, as confirmed by Secretary Duque, to act on the problem that the farmers personally brought to his attention last Thursday.

With a white banner that says “end poison rain, ban aerial spraying” as backdrop, citizens donning black shirts and farmers’ hats gathered in silence near the office of Secretary Duque to remind him of the urgent issue at hand.

“Sana panindigan ni Secretary Duque ang sariling pag-aaral at rekomendasyon ng DOH na ipagbawal ang aerial spraying at gawin niya ang kanyang tungkulin na protektahan ang kalusugan ng tao dahil maraming buhay ang nakataya,” said Cecilia Moran, President of MAAS. (“We hope Secretary Duque will stand by the DOH’s own study and recommendation to ban aerial spraying and carry out his duty to protect the health of the people because so many lives are at risk.”)

A panel of experts from the DOH had earlier recommended the banning of aerial spraying of pesticides based on their findings that confirmed reported health and environmental impacts in the village of Camocaan, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur.

The DOH-commissioned study released in May 2009 found traces of pesticides, including carcinogenic substances, in the blood of residents exposed to the aerial spraying. Air and soil samples also tested positive for pesticide contamination.

Various groups have appealed to Secretary Duque’s sense of compassion and justice and asked him not to give in to the well-oiled banana lobby, apply the precautionary principle, and demonstrate his leadership as health chief in upholding the people’s constitutional right to health and toxic-free environment.

Among those who took part in the “fax barrage” to Secretary Duque and his undersecretaries were the Active Citizenship Foundation, Buklod Tao, Concerned Citizens Against Pollution, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Health Care Without Harm, Mother Earth Foundation and the Partnership for Clean Air.

“The most supreme mandate rests upon your hands to protect public health against the proven hazards and biological effects of aerial spraying of pesticides. The police power of the state vested upon your office assures the rectification of an anomaly and protection of public health because it is not normal for anyone – rich or poor – to have undesirable chemicals in his circulatory system that is brought about by a business activity,” wrote Rene Pineda of COCAP, an affiliate of the NTFAAS.

“We can no longer take the beaten path of intensive chemical agriculture as it has been demonstrated that it beats the life out of the good earth, the clean air and water and sends those exposed to these chemicals on a slow march to disease and death. Aerial spraying only serves to expand the area of contamination, exposing more people to these toxic chemicals,” wrote Beau Baconguis, Toxics Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

MAAS and NTFAAS have been pushing concerned government officials in the Health, Environment and Agriculture Departments to perform their obligations under the law to protect and defend the public health and the environment.

For more information about the campaign, please log on to: