By Pesticide Action Network Philippines
A strong lobby to prohibit the entry, sale, field
testing, and release of crops and food containing genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) recently emerged from the ranks of progressive
lawmakers in the Philippine House of Representatives.
A forum held last September 9, part of the Philippine leg of
the 2004 People’s Caravan, successfully forged a common
understanding and unity against agrochemicals amongst farmers,
scientists, academicians and policymakers.
Dubbed as the “Legislators-Peasants Dialogue on Pesticides
ang Genetically Modified Organisms,” the activity attracted
7 congressmen, representatives of almost 20 congressmen, and 50
members of farmers groups and NGOs affiliated with the alliance
Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST).
GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act of 2004
Party-list lawmakers led by neophyte Rep. Rafael Mariano, also
the national chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
and a long-time partner of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the
Pacific (PAN AP), presented House Bill 2124 or otherwise known
as the “GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act of 2004.”
HB 2124 stated that “genetic engineering in food crops
is relatively new. However, there have been many cases discovered
which should tell us that genetically modified products could
seriously harm human beings and the environment.”
“The threat from genetically-engineered crops and food
products is rising in the Philippines. A number of food products
sold in our supermarkets and groceries have been found to contain
GMOs,” the bill added.
The bill also states that “we cannot underestimate the
known and suspected environmental health risks inherent in the
unchecked race to embrace the unproven technology of genetic engineering,”
adding that, “other countries in the world have acted through
legislation to protect their citizens and environment from the
threat of genetically engineered crops and food.”
The authors of HB 2124, Anakpawis Reps. Mariano and Crispin Beltran,
Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño, and Joel
Virador, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza, and Reps.
Abraham Mitra and Lorenzo Tañada III, however stressed
that “the filing of the bill does not mean that its authors
are against the use of science and technology in food and agriculture.”
“On the contrary, the proponents of this bill firmly believe
in using science to serve the people and society. But they are
strongly opposed to the use of science that will benefit only
a few and worse, harm people and damage the environment,”
the authors said.
Dangers of Agrochemicals
Dr. Romeo Quijano, a toxicologist from the University of the
Philippines an president of PAN Philippines, shared his expert
opinion on the dangers of pesticides and GMOs, as well as his
wealth of experience in battling the presence of agrochemicals
in the country.
He said that even though there is abundant and clear evidence
of the toxic effects of pesticides, recommendations of scientists
are hardly ever heard by the government, particularly by the regulatory
agency Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA).
Dr. Quijano, a former adviser to the FPA, recalled that when
Thiodan’s horrifying on banana plantation workers became
big news in the early ‘90s, the FPA dissolved their advisory
group instead of heeding their advice to ban the pesticide.
He deplored the fact that pesticides banned in developed countries
are sold widely in the Philippines. According to him, the continued
proliferation of internationally banned pesticides is a violation
of the people’s right to health and healthful ecology.
Dr. Quijano also assailed GMOs, saying that these products are
sold by the same companies that packaged pesticides as safe and
essential farming inputs.
“If they lied before about their products, will we, as
consumers, still believe the same about GMOs?” he said.
He cited the findings by the norwegian scientist Dr. Terje Traavik
about the allergic reactions of villagers exposed to GM crops
in Cotabato recently.
Dr. Quijano said that many alternatives to agrochemicals exist,
which do not risk the future of the whole planet for the sake
of big agrochemical TNCs.
Testimonies of farmers
Former International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) workers from
Laguna testified in front of the congressmen about the ruin heavy
exposure to chemicals like Furadan, Lindane and Thiodan, brought
upon their lives.
IRRI occupied the lands of hundreds of farmers in Laguna and
used them to experiment with high-yielding rice varieties and
launch the Green Revolution in the Philippines.
Aurelio Mercado, who worked for 20 years with IRRI and was taken
off the job, is suffering from various ailments along with other
co-workers, some of which have already passed away in the course
of their struggle against IRRI.
Meanwhile, a farmer-leader from the Cordillera region, Julian
Gayumba, said that pesticide factories introduced them to the
chemicals through monthly education pesticides. Now, farmers in
the country’s premier “vegetable bowl”are all
extensive users of pesticides.
He complained that pesticide use is increasing in quantity and
levels of toxicity because of the immunity pests develop to them
over the years.
“Before, we spray pesticides twice a month. Now, we have
to apply them every after 4-5 days,” he said.
Aside from the GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act, RESIST is also
pushing for an inquiry on hybrid rice, pesticides, a repeal of
Presidential Decree 1620 or IRRI’s immunity from suit, and
But it seems that getting these initiatives passed into law is
still a long and arduous task.
Atty. Ping Peña of RESIST pointed out that the ratification
of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which already has 110
country-signatories, continues to idle at the Philippine Senate.
“Not even the mandatory labeling of GMOs, at the very least,
seems to concern the Department of Agriculture (DA),” said
He said that the DA intentionally didn’t lay down the implementing
rules and regulations for GMO entry into the Philippines. As a
result, ordinary citizens have no clear information on GMO product
approvals. Atty. Peña insisted on the need for an investigation
on the status quo of GMO field-planting in the country.
Independent studies show that as of May 2004, 17 GMO products
were found in food, feeds, and processed goods.
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, meanwhile, expressed frustration
over the slow processing of GMO precautionary bills filed in Congress
In 2001, Bayan Muna filed a resolution calling for a halt in
GMO field-testing, but it never made it to a single congressional
GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act, filed last August 4, also
has yet to receive serious attention from the big power plocs
in the Philippine Congress.
However, legislators who attended the forum remained optimistic
that their efforts would find some headway, with the strong support
from the public.
Rep. Del de Guzman, who filed a separate bill on mandatory labeling,
emphasized its’ importance in order to educate and empower
consumer on GMOs, which for its huge impact remains a relatively
unknown issue in the country.
Rep. Tañada III, meanwhile, vowed to take up the issues
on pesticides and GMOs in the country’s preparations for
the World Trade Organization talks, of which he is part of.
Representatives of other congressmen expressed concern of how
a GMO ban would affect the country’s already fragile economy.
Dr. Quijano responded that on the contrary, continued patronage
of GMO products would be disastrous for trade, since countries
around the world are beginning to reject GMOs.
He also informed and warned the lawmakers against moves of the
US, in which most agrochemical TNCs are based, to coerce sovereign
governments who ban or restrict GMOs to revert their decisions
through threats of trade sanctions.
“The US is the number one promoting force of GMOs in the
world. The only counter-force that exists for that is resistance
from the people,” Dr. Quijano concluded.