Church spearheads ecology advocacy in the southern Philippines

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, December 5, 2008—Malaybalay Bishop Honesto Pacana said the fight of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Maas) against aerial spraying in banana plantations in Davao City is a moral fight for people who have “less in life and, unfortunately, less in law.”

“This is about human dignity. This is about human rights and justice for the common good. This is a moral issue because anything that degrades the dignity of people is a moral issue,” Pacana said.

Maas members and supporters have been camping out near the local Court of Appeals (CA) building here to press the justices to resolve the case that banana growers in Davao City filed against an ordinance banning aerial spraying there.

The ban against aerial spraying in Davao City was the second of such action against the use of chemicals, said to be a health risk for people living close to agricultural plantations. Bukidnon was the first to prohibit the use of aerial crop dusters in plantations there.

Maas members said the CA should already decide on the case filed by the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) against the Davao anti-aerial spraying ordinance as its nonresolution continues to put the health of those living near plantations at risk.

As a sign of frustration for the slow resolution of the PBGEA case, members of Maas and their supporters from Jesuit-run Ateneo de Cagayan University (Xavier University) and from the Sumilao Farmers Association recently shaved their heads.

“We have sacrificed so much and we are willing to sacrifice more until the hearts of the justices of the Court of Appeals will be touched. We are appealing for their compassion, that they listen to us…we do not want anything but justice. We only want to claim the basic right for our health to be protected and live in a poison-free environment,” Baby Adlawan, a farmer from Sirib, Davao City, said.

She said a visit to communities near banana plantations in Davao City might be needed so that CA justices would be convinced to act fast.

“The greed of these banana companies is what makes our lives difficult and is slowly killing us. And the same greed appears to be being protected by the decisions of the Court of Appeals when the justices issued the temporary restraining order and later the writ of preliminary injuction (against the ban) and now the snail-paced resolution of the constitutionality of the ordinance,” Rosita Bacalso, a senior member of Maas, said.

On the other hand, Puerto Princesa (Palawan) Bishop Pedro D. Arigo said he has not stopped issuing pastoral statements and leading the people in rallies opposing mining operations in the area.

The Bishop said the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development plans to declare a 25-year moratorium on small-scale mining but the provincial government under Governor Joel Reyes has not passed the required ordinance.

“The governor has reacted to our pastoral letter which was very critical of the provincial government on the anomalies involved in the issuance of mining permits,” he said.

Arigo said while they continue to oppose mining operations, they have learned to “tolerate” the existence of the Tuba Nickel mining. “We said let’s not have additional mining companies as we called for strict monitoring of its mine tailings.”

The prelate said he was surprised to learn more than 300 new mining applications have been filed.

Before the year ends, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) may issue another pastoral letter on environment. (Santosh Digal)

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