PAN-Philippines News Release 17sep00
Dr. Romeo Quijano, a long time anti-pesticide campaigner and President of Pesticide Action Network Philippines, is being sued libel for 10 Million pesos by the Lapanday Development Corporation (LADECO), a banana plantation company operating in Mindanao, Philippines. In 1993, Dr. Quijano was also sued (the suit was subsequently dismissed) by a transnational pesticide company because his statements against pesticides were published by some national newspapers. LADECO alleged that the article "Poisoned Lives" which was published by Philippine Post, a national daily, was "plainly defamatory".
The article in question reveals several cases of illnesses and deaths attributed to exposure to toxic pesticides in Kamukhaan village, which is just beside the banana plantation owned by LADECO and located at Hagonoy, Davao del Sur. Dr. Quijano's daughter, Ilang-Ilang Quijano, co-author of the article, and the editors and publishers of the Philippine Post were included in the libel suit. LADECO also charged that the article carried malicious and false imputations that LADECO committed violations of the Labor Code and government regulations on the use of pesticides. Curiously, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which also published a special report containing essentially the same story and corroborating much of the information earlier published by the Philippine Post, was not sued by LADECO.
In a statement answering the libel charge, Dr. Quijano asserted that the article in question was based on facts gathered from several visits to Kamukhaan since 1997, after the village was chosen as a field visit area in an international conference on pesticides and when the situation of the village was first documented by Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific.
Dr. Quijano added that the information conveyed in the article including the illness incidents, were based on actual interviews and medical examinations he conducted on several residents in the area, most of which were recorded on video camera. Several of those who were interviewed were summoned by the company and were made to sign statements contradicting their previous statements recorded on video. A number of the residents reported that they were intimidated by the company and that the company gave certain favors to obtain the signed affidavits that do not reflect the truth.
On the company's claim that there has never been any complaint regarding the adverse effects of pesticides used in the plantation, Dr. Quijano pointed out that testimonies gathered by the reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which also published the same story, corroborated the information that village residents had presented their complaints repeatedly to the company and to local government officials and that the company has not challenged the veracity of those testimonies.
Dr. Quijano further pointed out that the toxic pesticides which the company had admitted using, are scientifically known to cause the illnesses and other adverse effects which had been observed to occur in Kamukhaan and that people in Kamukhaan are inevitably exposed to these pesticides since the village is immediately adjacent and located at the downstream side of the banana plantation. The company's claim that the pesticides used "pose no threat to human, animal or plant life in the area" using as proof negative laboratory results of samples submitted by the company for pesticide residue analysis for just one pesticide which is not even in the list of the several pesticides used by the company was dismissed by Dr. Quijano as a "blatantly illogical conclusion".
Dr. Quijano also dismissed the conclusion of the company that the findings of the Regional Officer of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) who supposedly conducted an investigation "disproved" the facts mentioned in the article. He pointed out that the Regional Officer was not a health professional and therefore was not competent enough to "investigate" the illnesses reported and that her conclusions were subjective perceptions that do not negate the objective evidence pertaining to the complaints of the people of Kamukhaan. Dr. Quijano also belied the assertion of the company that the pesticides they are using are safe because these "have been cleared by the FPA" since "being cleared" by the FPA is no proof that a pesticide is safe to use and that even the FPA recognizes that pesticides pose threats to human health and the environment which is precisely the reason why there are restrictions and guidelines for pesticides use.
On the company's claim that they have not violated Labor Laws and that the company have complied with health and safety standards relative to the use of pesticides, Dr. Quijano pointed out that the information on low wages and hazardous working conditions was based on documented interviews with some of the workers themselves and was corroborated by other informants. Furthermore, the hazardous conditions which subject the workers to risks are clearly evident in the photo and video documentation.
Dr. Quijano asserted that the article "Poisoned Lives" is trying to
communicate the main message that poor and marginalized people suffer because of
pesticide use due to profit-oriented cash crop production for the benefit of the
rich. He maintained that there was no malice whatsoever in writing the article
and that the message being conveyed is a legitimate and important concern for
the general public who have the right to be informed. Finally, Dr. Quijano
declared that the authors of "Poisoned Lives" have the right to convey
the message through the printed medium in a manner that would conscientisize the
Answer of Romeo Quijano and Ilang-Ilang Quijano to the Complaint-Affidavit of Lapanday Corporation
The article in question "Poisoned Lives", authored by Romeo Quijano and Ilang-Ilang Quijano and which was published by the Philippine Post on March 6, 2000, was based on facts gathered from several visits to the village (Kamukhaan) since 1997. The situation in Kamukhaan was first documented by the Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific (PAN-AP) in an international conference on Sustainable Agriculture and Media held in June, 1997, a report of which was published in the October, 1997 issue of Pesticide monitor, the newsletter of PAN-AP.
The information conveyed in the article, including the illness incidents, were based on actual interviews of several residents in the area. Most of these interviews were recorded on video. Several of those who were interviewed (including Tabarlong and others) were summoned by LADECO (the company) and were made to sign statements contradicting their previous statements recorded on video. Some of those summoned reported that they were intimidated by the company and that the company gave certain favors (jobs and other benefits) to obtain the signed affidavits which do not reflect the truth. The contents of the solicited affidavits are full of obvious inaccuracies and falsehoods, which include, among others, the statements: that none had suffered skin and respiratory diseases, that nobody got sick due to the aerial spraying of pesticides, that the skin lesions of the child shown in the photograph was due to a slip while playing, and that Lilibeth Hitalia does not have difficulty in understanding things. . These solicited affidavits from some of the interviewees could not possibly negate the statements which were recorded on video.
The claim of the company that there has never been any complaint regarding the adverse effects of the pesticides they use in the plantation is not true. The fact is, as pointed out in the article, village residents had presented their complaints to both the company and to the local government officials. This fact was reported in the special article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and which was not denied by the company. Essentially the same story was published by the PDI but the company did not sue the PDI nor the reporter who wrote the special report. The information and statements pertaining to illnesses and other complaints associated with pesticide use in the banana plantation contained in the article "Poisoned Lives" published by the Philippine Post, which were allegedly defamatory, were also contained in the special report published by the PDI.
The mistaken attribution of death referring to Linda "Jacelina" Manggaga was not in the article "Poisoned Lives" published by Philippine Post, which is the subject of the libel suit. The mistaken attribution was, in fact, in the special report published by the PDI, which was not the subject of the libel suit. In the article published by the Philippine Post, it is clear that there was no mention of death referring to Linda Manggaga. It was the mother (who was not named) of Michael Bakiran, another interviewee, who was mentioned to have died possibly because of pesticide effects.
It is a fact that LAPANDAY has used and continue to use several pesticides scientifically known to cause illnesses and other adverse effects which had been observed to occur in Kamukhaan which is just beside the banana plantation owned by LAPANDAY. Some of the pesticides used by LAPANDAY have been classified by international bodies as "highly hazardous". Some are known to cause cancer, reproductive disorders, congenital diseases, disorder of the immune system, skin diseases, and other ailments. Some of the fungicides that are used in aerial spraying are known to cause thyroid disorder and other diseases.
It is also a fact that people in Kamukhaan are constantly exposed to several of the pesticides used by LAPANDAY in the banana plantation. The village, being immediately adjacent and located at the downstream side of the banana plantation, is inevitably contaminated by the pesticides used through various routes of exposure. Even a cursory visit to the site will show the obvious inevitability of exposure.
The company's claim that the results from the Pesticide Analytical Laboratory of the Bureau of Plant Industry for determination of pesticide residue "clearly show that the pesticides used by Ladeco in the plantation pose no threat to human, animal or plant life in the area" is false and reflects a blatantly illogical conclusion. In the first place, the results being referred to contain only determination for only ONE pesticide which is not even in the list of pesticides (supplied by the company itself) currently used by the company. Secondly, the samples for pesticide residue determination were submitted by the company itself and were not collected in a manner that would ensure objectivity. Thirdly, even a negative result in the laboratory does not lead to a conclusion of "no threat" since a positive result is not a prerequisite to the conclusion of presence of "threat". The statement that pesticides "pose threat to human health, animal and plant life in the area" may be true even if the laboratory result is negative. In addition, the result "not detectable" within the limited range of capability of the laboratory facility does not mean that the pesticide is not present, only that it could not be detected.
The claim of the company that the report of the FPA (Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority) Regional Officer, Ilominada Salting "disproves" the facts mentioned in the article "Poisoned Village" is false. Firstly, Ilominada Salting, not being a health professional, does not have the competence to credibly conduct an investigation as to the adverse health effects of pesticides on the residents in the community. Secondly, most of the so-called "findings", particularly Nos. 4-8, are irrelevant to the facts pertaining to the illness complaints mentioned in the article. Findings Nos. 1 and 2 are general assertions obviously based on the subjective perceptions of Salting and do not offer any factual basis. Finding No.3, even assuming that it is true, is also the subjective perception of a single individual which does not reflect the true situation in the community. These findings do not negate the statements from residents that have already been documented. They do not in any way "disprove" the fact that people at Kamukhaan had been poisoned and continue being poisoned by pesticides used by the LAPANDAY.
The assertion of the company that the pesticides they are using in the banana plantation are safe because they "have been cleared by the FPA " for use is not true. "Being cleared" by the FPA does not prove that a pesticide is safe to use. That pesticides pose threats to human health and the environment is recognized even by regulatory bodies such as the FPA. It is precisely because of these threats that pesticides are regulated and certain guidelines and restrictions are imposed to avoid excessive risks. For certain pesticides, like Furadan, Nemacur and Gramoxone; the conditions of use in a developing country like the Philippines do not allow "safe use" even with restrictions.
The information contained in the article "Poisoned Lives" pertaining to low wages and hazardous working conditions are based on documented interviews with the some of the workers themselves and corroborated by other informants. The hazardous conditions which subject the workers to risks are evident in the photo and video documentation done.
The claim of the company that the photographs published are "plainly defamatory" is ridiculous. The photographs help convey the main message that the article "Poisoned Lives" is trying to communicate to the readers, and that is: poor and marginalized people, especially children, suffer because of pesticide use due to profit-oriented cash crop production for the benefit of the rich. There was no malice whatsoever in writing the article "Poisoned Lives". The message being conveyed is a legitimate and important concern for the general public who have the right to be informed. Likewise, the authors of the article "Poisoned Lives" have the right to convey the message through the printed medium in a conscientisizing manner.
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