Philippines : Commission on Human Rights urges Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to shelve aerial chemical spraying

Wednesday 3 February 2010

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The debate on whether or not to allow aerial spraying of chemicals in banana plantations here and in the rest of the country continues with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) calling on President Macapagal-Arroyo to shelve it.

In a paper, the CHR asked the President to issue an executive order “mandating the shelving of the practice of aerial spraying of pesticide in the country, urgently ordering a time-bound multidisciplinary, comprehensive, independent and integrated study on the matter by a competent team of experts for the purpose.”

The paper was signed by CHR Chair Leila de Lima and four commissioners. It is the latest development in the call to stop the practice.

Banana industry players, particularly members of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) are opposing the call.

Evidence-based study

The CHR said an “evidence-based study” was necessary for the government to come up with “effective sustainable solutions regarding the human rights and environment issues related to aerial spraying of pesticides.”

The PBGEA has consistently claimed that banning aerial spraying would signal the downfall of the banana industry, causing big financial losses and unemployment. Shifting from aerial spraying to ground or manual spraying will be too costly for the banana companies, the group said.

The group has questioned the 2007 decision of the city government of Davao to ban aerial spraying. The case is now at the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court decision upholding the constitutionality of the city ordinance that bans the practice.

The fight against aerial spraying is led by the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Maas).

The CHR explained that “at the very heart of the conflicting claims for and against aerial spraying is the two-fold issue of the human rights to clean and healthy environment for the benefit of those whose conditions of life are threatened and the right of corporations to business and profit and the impact of loss-profit on the livelihood of its workers.”

“Human rights and environment protection are closely interconnected. Many human rights cannot be realized if the environment is not protected. And many human rights especially the vulnerable sectors are violated when there is environmental degradation. Economic and social progress must depend critically on the preservation of the natural resource base with effective measures to prevent environmental degradation,” it said.

The CHR call is based on the 1992 United Nations Rio declaration on environment and development, of which the Philippines is a signatory. Particularly, the call for the shelving is latched on Principle 15 that states “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

While a study is being conducted on the effects of aerial spraying on humans and on the environment, the CHR said that banana companies must shift to ground spraying—no matter how costly it is for them to do so.

“Cost-efficiency should not sacrifice respect for human rights,” it said.

Other recommendations

Other CHR recommendations:

The study be made an integral part of consideration on Congress in crafting future bills and resolutions on the matter.

Review of the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development as created under Executive Order No. 15 and Executive Order No. 370, as well as other bodies created for the purpose of addressing various issues on health and environment.

Continued monitoring of aerial spraying of pesticides, especially as it may have impact on human rights of the people

An independent, objective and wide dissemination of information for duty and rights bearers to ensure proper understanding of all issues concerned to find a venue for dialogue on conflicting issues.

Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao

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