CA stands firm vs. bt talong

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THE Court of Appeals stood pat with its final ruling on preserving a healthful ecology as it granted a petition filed by environmental groups which sought to permanently put to a stop nationwide field trials of genetically modified eggplants—popularly known as Bacillus thuringiensis (bt) talong. The trials were being conducted by a collaboration among the University of the Philippines in Los Baños and various government and private agencies.

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In a Resolution of the CA 13th Division, the appellate court affirmed its landmark decision by permanently stopping the continuation of the experiment.

The CA resolution penned by Associate Justice Isaias Dicdican ordered the permanent stoppage of the experiment.

The appellate court denied the motions for reconsideration filed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), its Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), and several other agencies.

It opined that the government filed to raise substantial ground which would warrant the reversal of their earlier ruling.

“The motions have not raised any substantial ground or reason that would call for the upturning of the findings of this Court,” it said.

A May 2013 ruling of the CA ruled that the primordial concern is the health and safety of the people.

“It is clear that there is no full scientific certainty yet as to the effects of the bt talong field trials to the environment and the health of the people . . . Consequently, the field trials of bt talong could not be declared by this Court as safe to human health and to our ecology, with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology,” the ruling said.

Appellate Associate Justices Myra V. Garcia-Fernandez and Nina G. Antonio-Valenzueala concurred in the decision.

It opined that even the bevy of local and foreign experts presented by proponents of the purportedly pest-resistant eggplants all agreed that aside from the fact that there are no laws regulating the field testing of genetically-modified plants, their safety cannot fully be guaranteed.

Leading the group of petitioners were Greenpeace and Masipag—the latter an organization of farmers and scientists for sustainable agriculture—which earlier brought the suit in April 26 last year before the Supreme Court under the High Court’s new environmental protection procedures. The petitioners were represented by lawyers from the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices, led by Prof. Harry L. Roque Jr. and Roger R. Rayel.

Among the respondents were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños Foundation Inc., UP Mindanao Foundation Inc. and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Greenpeace and Masipag were joined in the petition by activists and key figures in the academe and politics, among them former rep. Teddy Casiño, former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn, folk singer Noel Cabangon and scientist Dr. Ben Malayang 3rd.

The Supreme Court issued the Writ of Kalikasan on May 2, 2012, directing the respondents to answer the petition. It subsequently remanded the petition to the Court of Appeals for hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved.

At the time of the filing of the suit, field testing of genetically modified eggplant had already been done in Pangasinan, Laguna and Camarines Sur while others were still being conducted in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

The petition argued that the field trials violated the constitutional right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology because of the danger of contamination the technology posed to indigenous genetic resources of the country. But experts presented by the respondents, including some of the country’s top scientists from UP Los Baños, claimed the bt talong technology is safe and does not cause harm to the environment.

However, on questioning by the court, they admitted that the over-all safety of the bt talong remains unknown. Too, the court found that other than administrative issuances, there is no law that regulates field testing of GMOs in the country.

Jomar Canlas

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