Citizens Braved the Rains at Twin Protest vs Aerial Spraying

Quezon City. One hundred twenty farmers, students, environmentalists and social justice activists last Friday marched to the offices of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to convince the two officials to back a full ban on the aerial spraying of agrochemicals.

With Mindanao farmers at the forefront, the rain-soaked protesters belonging to the National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS) beat the drums and struck improvised clackers as they walked in protest against the long-drawn-out action to forbid aerial spraying in banana plantations in the south.

To demonstrate the inhumanity and toxicity of pesticide aerial operations, protesters flew a mock aircraft and put on paper mache “toxic masks” amid incessant shouts of “end poison rain” as they marched in solidarity with the Mindanao-based Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS).

The recent decision of the Executive Committee of the Department of Health (DOH) led by Secretary Francisco Duque III, which recommended a stop to aerial spraying as a precautionary policy, emboldened the groups to demand an immediate total ban on aerial spraying to safeguard human and ecological health.

Aside from MAAS and the NTFAAS, the event drew the participation of the Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice, Akbayan, Ang Katipunan ng Samahang Maharlika, Ateneo Student Catholic Action, Bangon Kalikasan Movement, Ban Toxics, Buklod Tao, Concerned Citizens Against Pollution, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Interface Development Interventions, KAISAHAN, Office for Social Concern and Involvement-AdMU, Partido Kalikasan, SALIGAN, Sanib-Lakas ng Aktibong Lingkod para sa Inang Kalikasan, and the Simbahan Lingkod ng Bayan.

“Wala ng dapat pumigil pa sa DA at DENR na umaksyon ngayong inirekomenda na ng ating mga public health expert mula sa DOH ang pagpapahinto sa aerial spraying. Nagtitiwala kami na pipiliin nila na kampihan ang kalusugan ng tao at kalikasan,” said Cecilia Moran, President of MAAS. (“There is nothing to stop the DA and DENR from acting now that our public health experts from the DOH have recommended a halt to aerial spraying. We trust that they too will take the side of the people’s health and the environment.”)

At their first stop at the Department of Agriculture (DA) headquarters, NTFAAS reiterated their long standing appeal to Secretary Yap to take decisive action against the detrimental practice of aerial spraying.

“We won’t entertain any commercial logic that Sec. Yap is expected to mouth because we are invoking the most supreme right — every citizen’s right to a healthful life — that Sec. Yap swore to uphold, before God and Constitution when he assumed public office. His continued defiance will be tantamount to a blatant violation of his mandate, and we will ensure that such acts, together with those of the other servants of the people in the department, will not escape unpunished,” said Rene Pineda, Coordinator of the NTFAAS.

The protesters then briefly assembled in front of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (a DA-attached agency) to denounce the complicity of the regulatory body’s top officials in allowing the chemical trespass by aerially-dispersed pesticides to contaminate people’s lives and the environment.

“We blame the FPA for this toxic mess that has been happening for decades right under their noses. It only proves that certain officials are sleeping on their job while powerless victims of chemical pollution suffer from persistent exposures to pesticides,” said Jane Capacio, Executive Director of KAISAHAN.

For their final stop, the NTFAAS gathered outside the DENR to ask Secretary Atienza to upgrade the department’s policy on aerial spraying and to harmonize it with that of the DOH.

Secretary Atienza, acting on the joint complaint of MAAS and NTFAAS, recently ordered a temporary suspension of aerial spraying near residential communities or, if that is not feasible, the designation of adequate buffer zones to avoid pesticide drift.

“As an avowed defender of the sanctity of life and promoter of green industry, we expect from Secretary Atienza nothing less than an out-and-out ban on the damaging and dehumanizing practice of aerial pesticide spraying,” said Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

NTFAAS further urged Secretary Atienza to promptly act on the complaint filed by MAAS against EMB Region XI for failing to enforce his directive to suspend aerial spraying for the time being. The group also asked Secretary Atienza to order an impartial probe about the alleged ill-mannered treatment of MAAS members by EMB Regional Director Metodio Turbella, which, according to NTFAAS, is highly condemnable and grossly unbecoming of a public servant.

MAAS and NTFAAS had earlier criticized the temporary suspension order, knowing the government’s limited capacity to enforce sustained health and environmental surveillance in impacted communities. The groups also discarded the effectiveness of buffer zones in preventing pesticide drift, saying that chemicals applied through aerial spraying are highly prone to long-range drift and the off-target contamination of families and communities.

A DOH study released in May 2009 confirmed pesticide contamination beyond agricultural plantation boundaries when pesticide residues were detected in villagers’ blood and in air and soil samples. Majority of the residents also said they are constantly hit by pesticide drift from aerial spray and would get sick after exposure.