PANNA: Action Alert: PAN Leader Targeted in the Philippines


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Action Alert: PAN Leader Targeted in the Philippines
October 14, 2003

The Philippine Supreme Court recently re-instated a plantation owner’s libel suit against Dr Romeo Quijano, an important international public health advocate and leader of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Philippines, and five journalists for documenting and publicizing the situation of a village poisoned by pesticides. Pesticide Action Network Regional Coordinators and Dr. Quijano’s many colleagues around the world ask you to send a letter to Philippine officials demanding an end to this harassment. (The text of the letter written by the PAN Regional Coordinators follows below.)

In 1997 Dr. Quijano and his daughter, Llang-Llang published an article, “Poisoned Lives” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Post newspapers, reporting on illness in the village of Kamukhaan, Mindanao which was poisoned by persistent aerial and ground spraying on a nearby banana plantation owned by the Lapanday Agricultural Company (LADECO) (see PANNA’s Global Pesticide Campaigner, December 1999 and PANUPS of August 26, 2002). The Quijanos reported widespread health problems consistent with pesticide poisoning and even several deaths attributable to the pesticides used on the plantation in the 1980s. They and several journalists were sued for libel by LADECO shortly after the article appeared, and sued a second time after the first case was denied in 2001. It is the second libel suit that has just been re-instated by the Philippine courts and that now threatens Dr. Quijano and others.

Dr. Quijano and these journalists performed an important public service for the community of Kamukhaan and other rural villages where frequent and heavy applications of pesticides deeply affect human and environmental health. They must not be silenced or punished for documenting or for exercising their rights and duty to speak out against serious environmental health damage.

Please contact the Philippine officials listed below and let them know you support the work of Dr. Quijano and others to documenting the health risks of pesticide use in Kamukhaan:

Within the U.S. first dial the international access code 011:
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Fax: (632) 736-1010
Luis P. Lorenzo Jr., Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Fax: (632) 929-8183
Elisea Gozon, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Fax: (632) 920-4301
Manuel Dayrit, Secretary, Department of Health, Fax: (632) 743-1829
Rep. Carlos Padilla, House Minority Floor Leader, TeleFax: (632) 931-5691
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Senate Minority Floor Leader, Fax: (632) 552-6713

(Text of letter to these officials sent by PAN Regional Coordinators of Asia/Pacific, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America)

Dear Respected Representatives,

The Regional Coordinators of the international group, Pesticide Action Network, would like to express our concern at recent events in the Philippines against a number of highly respected individuals who have documented conditions of, and sought to support, a community affected by exposure to pesticides. The concern is the revived legal action pending against Dr Romeo Quijano, a professor at the University of Philippines and a highly respected member of the global health community. Dr Quijano is President of Pesticide Action Network Philippines. The action also affects five journalists: Ilang-Ilang Quijano (Dr Quijano’s daughter and a reporter on Pinoy Weekly), Leti Boniol (Inquirer desk editor), Danilo Mariano ( editor); and New York Times correspondents Carlos Conde and Nick Legaspi (Malaya desk).

Originally dismissed in 2001 in recognition that this case concerned the public interest, we have now learned that the Department of Justice revived the case in July 2003. The medical profession and the press have a duty to investigate causes of ill-health. In the case in question, the circumstances affecting a Philippino community could be seen as an abuse of their human rights and harassment of those seeking to redress injustice is limiting their freedom of speech.

We have followed the plight of the villagers of Kamukhaan, Mindanao, since first documented by Dr Quijano in 1997 and are aware of the apparent level of pesticide contamination arising from the nearby banana plantation owned by the Lapanday Development Corporation (LADECO). Dr Quijano has visited this 700-strong community on many occasions and documented the serious health and economic impacts on them as a result of living in the shadow of the plantation. Other investigators, including some of those named in the legal action, as well as national and international organizations, have corroborated the findings.

The conditions facing this community are appalling. They have suffered widespread disease and fatalities from pesticide exposure for over 20 years. Repeated aerial and ground spraying of pesticides have polluted soil, and affected the local flora, fauna and biodiversity. The resulting deaths of trees, animals and fish, and of crop failures, have destroyed not only the health of the whole community, including children, but also their livelihoods as farmers and fisherfolk. We are concerned too at possible effects on the workers living on and near the plantations.

You may be aware that governments, working through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adopted in 2001 a revised version of the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides in order to better protect communities in poorer countries where conditions of use mean that pesticide applications are often extremely hazardous. The Code recommends that pesticides in the most hazardous categories established by the World Health Organization, class Ia (extremely hazardous), class Ib (highly hazardous), should not be used under most conditions in developing countries, and that class II (moderately hazardous) should also be avoided. We understand that the pesticides used on the plantation include carbofuran, diazinon, glyphosate mancozeb, maneb and paraquat. There are many concerns relating to these chemicals, for example, acute toxicity according to the WHO classification [carbofuran (Ib) paraquat and diazinon (both II)]. Others are carcinogenic or disrupt hormone systems. Ecotoxicological effects have also been identified.

The revised Code provides guidance for governments to help eliminate the adverse health and environmental effects of pesticides. The Code also calls on those using pesticides and with a role in the food chain – agricultural producers, food marketers and retail outlets – to assist in the implementation of the Code. The pesticide industry has now adopted the revised Code and its member companies have pledged to comply.

As an organization which investigates the adverse effects of pesticides at field level, we are well aware that many pesticides that have not yet been classified under an international system cause severe health and environmental effects. Documentation of the effects of pesticides is extremely important for contributing to the improvement of human health of all exposed communities, particularly the poor who have limited resources to protect themselves. Field documentation contributes to scientific knowledge, and assists research establishments and industries to develop and implement less hazardous tools and strategies for control of pests and maintaining productivity.

We respectfully ask the government to intervene in this matter through establishing an official enquiry, and supporting the actions taken by Dr Quijano and others. Their actions constitute an important public service not only to the community of Kamukhaan, but also to others facing similar assaults on their lives and livelihoods in the Philippines and elsewhere. Actions that stifle legitimate investigations and documentation do a disservice to all those working to improve the conditions of poor communities and for a clean and sustainable environment.

Yours sincerely,

Sarojeni J. Rengam, Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
Abou Thiam, Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network Africa
Marie Elena Rozas, Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network Latin America
Monica Moore, Regional Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network North America
Carina Weber, International programme, Pesticide Action Network Germany/Europe
Barbara Dinham, International programme, Pesticide Action Network UK/Europe

The Pesticide Action Network is a coalition of over 600 public interest organizations and trade unions in ore than 60 countries. It works to eliminate the hazards of pesticides and to promote safe and sustainable alternatives.

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