Friday, April 17, 2009

Activists hold rally in Davao City, assail unabated destruction of environment

Militants in Davao City in Mindanao hold protest Friday, April 17, 2009 against the alleged "anti-people" and "anti-environment" policies of the government as prelude to the Earth Day celebration on April 22. The militants blame government policies as responsible for the exploitation and degradation of the natural resources in the country. (AKP Images / Keith Bacongco)
DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Mindanao farmers call on the Supreme Court to protect their environmental rights from corporate agribusiness plantations during a conference on environmental justice amidst the uphill battle to ban aerial spraying of pesticides and environmental degradation brought about by toxic agriculture.

The Supreme Court held a simultaneous Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao conference on environmental justice with Davao City as venue for the Mindanao leg, at the Ateneo de Davao University.

Called the the Peoples' March for Environmental Justice, the farmers coming from the provinces of Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Cotabato and Davao see this as a welcome opportunity to promote their agenda on environment justice.

Emphasizing the precautionary principle as the fundamental yardstick to uphold environmental justice, the farmers appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) to shift the burden of evidence to polluters. In the case of aerial spraying, these are the banana plantations which employ this method.

Representatives of the SC, together with civil society representatives and City Councilor Leo Avila III, went down from the Ateneo conference building to dialogue with the farmers.

To attract public attention, a woman farmer garbed in white and blindfolded with a cloth marked “Dili mi peste! (We are not pests) to symbolize 'lady justice', raised her improvised justice scale holding paper-mache of planet Earth on one end, and paper bills on the other.

“For farmers like me, environmental justice means upholding our basic human right to have clean air, safe food and drinking water and our over-all right to live life the fullest, over and above the interest of these agri-business plantations that are using harmful chemicals ,” said Cecil Moran, spokesperson of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS).

“To the justices, please remember that we are the living witnesses and victims of irresponsible business and social injustice of corporate plantations. Our basic rights guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution and the International Bill of Rights have been jeopardized for decades now. We are still waiting for the dawn of freedom from poison brought about by pesticides,” Moran added.

“Environmental rights should not have pre-conditions. Corporations guilty of producing and using these chemicals should be held liable to court for violations of our rights,” said Lia Jasmin Esquillo, executive director of the Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (IDIS).

“Invoking the public welfare clause of the Philippine Constitution, these toxic chemicals have actually no right to tresspass or encroach our national territory because they are designed to kill and therefore threaten life and our national sovereignty,” Esquillo explained.

She further said that in this context, “the SC has the the responsibility to protect public welfare over the economic interest of these corporations.”

“The High Court must not dwell on how to manage these chemicals because managing already implies acceptance of usage of these poisons. Court actions should rather be towards the prevention and elimination of harm,” Esquillo suggested. (Angging Aban)

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