Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 22 July 7 - 13, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Arroyo Adviser Sues Health Activist Anew for Pesticide Poisoning Exposé
A well-known health activist, Dr. Romeo Quijano, cries harassment after he and his journalist daughter were charged with a P5.5 million civil case by an influential adviser of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The case is the second to be filed by the same adviser who lost an earlier P20-million libel case over an exposé on pesticide poisoning.
Health activist Dr. Romeo Quijano and his journalist daughter Ilang-Ilang Quijano were slapped with yet another lawsuit - this time a P5.5 million civil case for damages - by Lapanday Agricultural and Development Corporation (LADECO) concerning an expose` on pesticide poisoning in Kamukhaan, a village in Mindanao. LADECO is owned by the family of Luis Lorenzo, Jr., an influential adviser of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The Quijanos were initially sued with a P20 million libel case last August 2000 for the article “Poisoned Lives,” published in The Philippine Post last March 2000 but the criminal case was dismissed in January 2001. The new damage suit filed last April this year with the notice served only in June, according to Dr. Quijano, “is clearly nothing but part of the harassment LADECO has been continuously inflicting on us and the villagers of Kamukhaan.”
Based on the findings of a series of fact-finding missions led by Dr. Quijano, president of Pesticide Action Network Philippines and NAMANGKA, a peasant organization in Digos, Davao del Sur, the authors said that almost 150 families are being poisoned by the use of pesticides in a nearby banana plantation owned by LADECO. This has caused widespread diseases and the death of several residents of Kamukhaan and workers of the plantation since the early 1980’s. Persistent ground and aerial spraying of hazardous pesticides such as Dithane, Baycor, Furadan, Decis, Nemacur and Gramoxone has also polluted the soil and the sea, killing trees, crops, animals and fish over the years, thereby destroying the livelihood of farmers and fishermen and miring the villagers into destitution, the report said. Workers were also reportedly being paid very low wages and are subjected to hazardous working conditions.
LADECO revived claims that people in Kamukhaan, based on some solicited affidavits, denied the findings of Dr. Quijano and that the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), in an investigation that was conducted after the publication of the article, concluded that there were no deaths that occurred in Kamukhaan due to pesticides. LADECO also claimed that the company implements a 50-meter buffer zone on the aerial spraying and provides workers with protective clothing. It also stated that their pesticides are cleared by the FPA and that laboratory tests prove that they “pose no threat to human, animal or plant life in the area.”
However, Dr. Quijano countered that the company coerced villagers to sign retractions of statements that he had earlier obtained on videotape. He also said that the FPA officer that conducted the investigation was not a health professional and was not competent enough to make conclusions about the health effects of pesticides on the villagers.
The health activist also asserted that the laboratory tests mentioned by the company were inappropriate since it measured only one chemical which was not even listed among the pesticides of concern and that the company itself was in control of the study and, therefore, subject to bias. “The grave health conditions of the villagers speak for themselves,” Dr. Quijano said, in response to the company’s claim of safety measures.
The Kamukhaan documentary, as well as the libel case that ensued, merited attention and support from the international health and environmental organizations such as Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International and International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), as well as the local peasant movement led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. It was featured in an episode of ABS-CBN’s investigative news program, The Correspondents.
Dr. Quijano is a Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the College of Medicine, University of the Philippines Manila. In 1993, the transnational pesticide manufacturing company, Hoechst, filed a P22 million suit against Dr. Quijano in response to statements he made in a public lecture that included health hazards associated with a Hoechst product, endosulfan. The case was eventually dismissed and the government eventually banned further use of this product in the Philippines. Bulatlat.com