While the new inter-agency administrative order supposedly addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court ruling on Bt-talong, the process of which the AO is being crafted is a blatant disregard of the essence of the SC decision: that GMOs and its possible hazards are of “paramount public importance,” thus, should ensure that they are well-informed and educated on the issue. The fast-tracking of the AO appears to be a concession to the big businesses and industries pushing for GMOs, while neglecting the welfare of the farmers and consumers and the environment. (The following article is published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 10, 2016)
Environment, agri groups buck issuance of GMO rules
Joint circular on importation of crops to be out soon
VARIOUS groups that are against the propagation of genetically modified (GM) crops said the government was railroading the issuance of new rules for the commercial cultivation and importation of such products as a final consultation session was held on Tuesday.
The groups include Greenpeace, Magsasaka at Syentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), Green Action PH (Graph), Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), Pesticide Action Network Philippines, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Center or Health Initiatives and Management of Eco-systems.
Greenpeace campaigner Leonora Lava said in a press briefing that following the Supreme Court’s junking of the old GM crop rules last December, the concerned executive departments had conducted “so-called multistakeholder public consultations on Jan. 22 in Cebu City, Jan. 25 in Cagayan de Oro City and Jan. 27 in Quezon City.
The High Court had stopped tests on growing the so-called Bt talong, a variety of eggplant made pest-resistant with a gene of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
Along with that, the tribunal also declared void the DA’s Administrative Order No. 8, saying this failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety.
The consultation on Tuesday was to be the final session on a new joint department circular being drafted by the Departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Health and Interior and Local Government.
“They intend to issue the circular on Feb. 16,” Lava said. “That’s not even one month. Why the rush?”
Masipag national coordinator Chito Medina said the notice for consultation was circulated a week before in Luzon and Metro Manila and only two working days in advance in Visayas and Mindanao.
“Along with the short notice, the NCBP (National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines) also failed to provide an advanced copy of the draft [rules] that will be presented during the consultation,” Medina said.
“Add to this the ridiculously short program and the dominance in numbers of known GM crop promoters including representatives from agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, we believe that the consultation is just a token one,” he added.
But according to Dennis Guerrero, chief of staff at the agriculture department, the anti-GM crop groups should focus on the substance of the draft.
“The draft and the process it is undergoing addresses all the points the Supreme Court raised in voiding the previous rules,” Guerrero said.
The lawyer added that comments from all parties will be entertained until Feb. 18 and the final version of the joint circular is expected to be issued before the end of this month.
“The draft is available for download through the websites of the DA, DOST and NCBP,” Guerrero said. “We have painstakingly addressed all the issues raised in the Supreme Court decision, especially that about the need for meaningful consultation with stakeholders.” Ronnel W. Domingo
Los Baños, Laguna – With merely two weeks and three skewed consultations conducted, the new joint administrative order being cooked up by various government agencies is expected to be flawed and biased, farmer-scientist group MASIPAG believes.
A joint administrative order on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is being drafted by various government agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Trade and Industry after a landmark Supreme Court ruling has declared null and void the DA Administrative Order No. 8 Series of 2002 which is the only policy set governing the use of GMOs, in particular, GM corn. With the nullification of the DA AO 8, all importations, applications, testing and commercialization of GMOs have also been banned temporarily, until a new administrative order is put in place.
Civil society organizations, however, have denounced the railroading of the process.
“One of the basic tenets of the Court’s ruling is for the government to fortify its processes and policies so that the safety of the people and the environment is guaranteed,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG, one of the petitioners of the Writ of Kalikasan. “Yet the government agencies in charge chose to flout the democratic process just to accommodate the demands and pressure from the industry and argrochemical corporations.”
The government argues that there might be ‘food supply disruptions’, since any new applications for the importation of GM products are temporarily banned. However, existing permits are still allowed until their expiration.
“It appears that in their haste to appease the private businesses and corporations, the government agencies missed the point of the SC decision which is to ensure the public’s safety against a potentially harmful technology by calling for policy reform, meaningful public participation and ascertaining the safety of GMOs through Precautinary Principle, and EIA.
In its bid to present the proposed joint circular and to supposedly solicit comments, multi-stakeholder consultations was organized by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP), which serves as the secretariat. Notice of the consultation were circulated a week before in Luzon and Metro Manila, while only two working days for the regional consultations in Visayas and Mindanao.
“However, along with the short notice of the consultation, the NCBP also failed to provide an advanced copy of the draft joint AO that will be presented and discussed during the consultation,” said Dr. Medina. “How then could we hope to have an equal footing in the discussion if we have not yet read, studied and analyzed the document?”
“In consultations where the results will have significant impact on the general public’s health, farmers’ livelihood, and environmental safety, there must be sufficient time to solicit substantial inputs from all stakeholders, especially the civil society organizations,” said Georie Pitong, Regional Coordinator for MASIPAG in the Visayas. The notice for the Visayas consultation in Cebu City was given two days before, and still without any advanced copy of the draft joint AO.
“Add this to the ridiculously short programme and the dominance in numbers of known GMO promoters including representatives from agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, we believe that the consultation is just a token one and does not genuinely seek the inputs and comments of the CSOs and farmers’ groups,” said Dr. Medina.
Caving in to corporate pressure
MASIPAG also laments that the government agencies involved seem willing to defy the Court’s ruling that meaningful public participation is undertaken in favour of the huge businesses that are supposedly suffering from the temporary ban.
“As we understand it, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have ruled in favour of upholding our right to a balanced and healthy ecology,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman and a farmer in Negros Occidental. “The new policy then should take into consideration not only the impacts on trade and importation, but the long-term effects as well to the peoples’ health and environment.”
Seguiro added that stakeholders such as farmers’ and consumers’ opinion and stand on GMOs should be seriously considered because “these GMOs affect not only the livelihood of the farmers and our genetic resources where its impacts are irreversible; and they will also eventually find its way to the Filipino consumers’ tables where the health safety are not yet even established.”
“Therefore we have the right to be involved in the policy-making for our food and technologies, but in a genuine and meaningful way, with ample information provided among the parties and sufficient time for engagement and discussion,” said Seguiro.
As of press time, the draft administrative order has still not been provided for comments and analyses among the various stakeholders. Reports indicate that the final version of the AO will be signed by February 16. MASIPAG, along with other farmers’ and civil society groups are calling for the NCBP to conduct more substantial consultations with copies of the draft AO provided, as well as wider representation from various sectors. #
Update: The BPI Biotech Secretariat has finally sent the draft copy of the DOST-DA-DENR-DOH-DILG Joint Department Circular: Rules and Regulation for the Research and Development, Handling and Use, Transboundary Movement, Release into the Environment and Management of Plant and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology” on January 29, Friday. Fact remains that they did not provide this in advance, for the participants to be prepared during the so-called consultation.
The recent ruling of the Supreme Court halting the field trials of Bt talong (eggplant) is a sounding victory of farmers and consumers not only in the Philippines, but the rest of the world as well. This also goes to show that even in small acts, small and resource poor farmers can participate and make a difference in forwarding their rights for safe food and healthy environment.
The unanimous decision of the magistrates clearly illustrates the many loopholes of the current policy that oversees the use of GMOs. This was abused by biotech giants, in connivance with subservient local scientists, in order to profit from the commercialization of these products. For more than a decade, we have been the testing ground of these unwanted and hazardous technologies that have contaminated our native varieties and our food systems. This landmark judgment, we hope, will be a precedent in making health and safety a priority in decisions pertaining to new but untested and usually unwanted technologies such as GMOs in food and agriculture.
The Supreme Court’s decision has carved a path to make science more responsive to health and environmental safety. Core to the court’s decision is the application of the Precautionary Principle. The court, which has acted on evidences presented (both by the petitioners and respondents) and the current state of GMOs worldwide, finds three conditions present on the case – uncertainty, the possibility of irreversible harm and the possibility of serious harm – which warranted the application of the precautionary principle. If we are to read the decision, the magistrates sees no full scientific proof, and that no clear and definite answers were presented by the respondents to warrant safety of Bt talong on people’s health and the environment.
The court also cited the non-implementation of the National Biosafety Framework (a inter-agency responsibility of DA, DOST, DENR, DOH etc) in the crucial stages of risk assessment, shallow public consultation and the non-performance of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS law) as additional compelling basis for safety. Thus the court not only based its decision on technical issues but also ventured into public policies governing GMOs, warranting the stoppage of the Bt talong field trials and nullifying the DA Administrative Order No.8 (DA AO8) as basis for approving and regulating field testing and commercialization.
Indeed the petitioners are not anti-science; however they demand more science, truth and transparency to ascertain safety of GMOs and needs clear and solid proof that GMOs would truly uplift the socioeconomic state of our small and resource-poor farmers.
So we are very beleaguered to the fact that a lot of people, especially coming from the so-called independent science community, have come at the forefront to defend GMOs and the government’s pro-GM and pro-corporate policy. Statements coming from Dr Michael Purugganan, Dr Emil Javier and the UPLB LABS criticized the decision of the Supreme Court, stating that the decision would strike down science and with it the food security and future of agriculture in the Philippines. They even cited the loss of thesis and research grants and other opportunities, the effect to the animal industry as these are heavily reliant on imported GM soy, the incomes of thousands of corn farmers planting GM corn in the country and the life’s work of scientists surrounding GMOs.
Contrary to their instigations, it is the huge biotech corporations helped by corporate scientists, local businessmen and the government who have long ago high jacked science and agriculture in the Philippines.
The fact that for more than a decade, GM corn caused socioeconomic inequities among small and resource-poor farmers and environmental problems. In our research, farmers using GM corn experienced further indebtedness caused by the steep prices of inputs resulting to loss of ownership of lands and control over their seeds. Monoculture GM corn farming also affected local food security due to loss of agrobiodiversity and soil erosion. Even if the Philippines is an agricultural country, we have been heavily reliant in importing GM food and feeds coming mainly from the US.
GM corn, which the government has said helped making the country corn secure, has now wreaked havoc into the environment and farmers health. Stacked-trait corn (with Bt and herbicide tolerant traits) which comprises more than 90% of the total GM corn planted in the country is being doused with herbicide Glyphosate, a Type II A Carcinogenic substance classified by the WHO. It is estimated that more than 6 million liters of Glyphosate for 800,000 hectares of GM corn were poured in the country in 2014 alone. GM corn has also contaminated native and traditional corn varieties which are consumed by our small farmers and indigenous communities. These actual proofs should be more than enough to call for the banning of GM corn. These studies however, are not recognized by subservient scientists, pseudo-NGOs/company puppets and cohorts in the government.
The current state of agriculture in the Philippines is very dismal, as science professionals are more interested in protecting their works and grants while turning a blind eye on the real impacts of these technologies to the lives and livelihood of our Filipino farmers. The so-called scientists and their ideals are the favorite workshops of huge transnational companies, conniving to make the Philippines more food insufficient and backward.
Yes, in every advancement we need to take risks. But these risks should not be taken in the name of the people who will be affected. To date, no reliable biosafety parameters and protocols to ascertain environmental and health safety is in place. In the case of Bt talong, field trials were commenced before health and safety tests were implemented. It is important to note that Bt talong, as a product of genetic modification is different from native eggplants; thus policies such as the National Biosafety Framework, and international commitments like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the CBD should be complied to protect the people and environment from an accidental or deliberate exposure of GMOs.
We thus call on the people and the farmers to protect their victory against GMOs and the corporate advancement to food and agriculture. We also call on the pro-GMO camp to accept the verdict and, as people of reason and objectivity as they call themselves, to overhaul the policies to ensure that it will truly safeguard to the people’s right to health and environment. We also call on them to immerse with the small and resource-poor farmers, know their real needs and issues so that they may reflect on themselves that the country does not need these GMOs. Further, we call a more people-oriented agricultural science which will address the backward state of agriculture which our state is in for many decades.#
· Supreme Court Decision on Bt talong, GR No 209271, December 8, 2015
· Socio-econimic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines, Magsasaka at Siyenitpiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, 2013
The MASIPAG regional unit in Luzon is looking for two (2) dynamic, self-driven individuals who will serve as the Cluster Coordinators for (1) Central and North-West Luzon Cluster and (2) Northern Luzon to spearhead the development of the MASIPAG network’s programs and is committed to make his/her contribution to development work.
Responsibilities and Obligations of the Cluster Coordinator are as follows:
• Coordinate with farmer-trainers in the conduct of various MASIPAG Sustainable Agriculture activities;
• Facilitate the conduct of Training Needs Analysis
• Coordinate Masipag related activities in her/his area of responsibilities (AOR)
• Provide technical assistance to other clusters when needed
• Assist in the consolidation of People’s Organizations (PO) involved in the MASIPAG Network within the Area Cluster
• Assist in the development of social infrastructure for the efficient/effective implementation of the Sustainable Agriculture (SA) program of Masipag members in her/his AOR;
• Facilitate marketing needs of PO’s thru the Masipag Farmers Guarantee System (MFGS)
Area of assignment for Central and North-West Luzon Cluster includes Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Zambales, Ilocos while the Northern Luzon Cluster includes Nueva Vizcaya and Cordillera areas.
Please send your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org, or for further information you may contact us thru cellphone number 09175649873. #
Davao City — Farmers and NGOs gathered together to solidify their ranks during the 12th Regional Assembly of MASIPAG in Mindanao last December 18-19. With the theme “Palig-onon, palapdon ug isulong ang MASIPAG sa Mindanao! (Fortify, consolidate and advance MASIPAG in Mindanao!)” Farmers from indigenous communities, many of them women, from 48 farmers’ organizations and four NGOs affirmed their commitment in pushing for the empowerment of small-scale farmers through sustainable agriculture.
The assembly was attended by regular, associate, NGOs and scientists members and elected the new set of the Regional Project Management Team (RPMT). The new set of RPMT are Marlinda Inda from Bukidnon, Anita Pandian from Davao City, Reynaldo Anora from davao del Norte, Marlon Recidoro from South Cotabato, Casilda Galagala of RECAP and Anita Morales of METSA Foundation. They were sworn into office by Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG chairperson.#