Farmers are the biggest stakeholders in Biotech War


A few columns ago, we cited a reported move by several farmers from various parts of the country to get their voices heard by the Supreme Court (SC) in the legal tug-of-war over modern agricultural biotechnology.

This tug-of-war pits the Europe-based activist group Greenpeace against our science community led by researchers from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB). The case now before the SC stemmed from a recent legal victory of Greenpeace which somehow managed to secure a decision from Court of Appeals (CA) stopping Filipino scientists from completing field trials for a biotech eggplant variety called Bt Talong.

Our scientists, with several government agencies, have gone to the SC to appeal the CA decision. In effect, they are asking the SC to allow them to continue field trials. No way, Greenpeace said, as it swiftly blocked the legal maneuver of the science community.

In this raging legal tussle, several Filipino farmers reportedly filed a petition asking that they be allowed to air their side on the issue. In legal parlance, this is referred to as a Petition for Intervention.

The Filipino farmers’ alleged position on the matter is simple – that they were not heard when the biotech eggplant controversy first wound its way to the courtroom. They apparently don’t want that to happen a second time. We can only assume that the SC is now looking at their petition to determine its merit.

We got many responses to our earlier piece, mostly taking the view that our farmers ought to be heard in the legal skirmish now before the SC. After all, they say, our farmers are perhaps the biggest stakeholders here.

As we have said many times in the past, the SC decisions on legal issues brought before it are sacrosanct. So is the process that the High Court follows to bring such issues to a just resolution.

Part of this process is the plea of Filipino farmers to be allowed to participate in a lawsuit involving other parties so that their interests may be protected by the judgment of the court, which in this case, is the SC. Here, the SC may or may not grant the petition of the Filipino farmers to be heard.

Jurisprudence tells us all that “intervention” is a privilege, not a right. The SC may not give the farmers what they’re asking for unless they’re able to convince the High Court that they have an interest in the matter under litigation or in the success of any of the parties in the case, or that they will be affected by the eventual outcome of the case, be it favorably or adversely.

All these are in the hands of the SC.

If and when the SC allows our farmers to intervene, it’s possible that Greenpeace may resist and protest such ruling.

It seems the case has not reached that point yet.

It will be interesting, however, to find out what Greenpeace will tell the SC if and when it decides to allow our Filipino farmers to intervene in the case.

Will Greenpeace say that Filipino farmers have no real interest in the success or failure of our science community to reverse the CA ban on field testing for Bt Talong? Will it say that Filipino farmers have no real interest in the testing of modern agricultural technologies that can beat their traditional foes like pests and disease?

Will Greenpeace tell the court that Filipino farmers will not be affected by the outcome of the case even if they’re denied the use of 21st-century solutions to the most pressing problems of their agricultural crops?

We don’t know. All the possible answers are in the realm of speculation.

While the public may feel that it is right to let Filipino farmers participate in this biotech controversy, we must all keep in mind that only the SC has the final say on the matter. We must all respect whatever its decision may be.

There is growing concern though that our scientists and farmers cannot match the vast financial, political and PR resources of Greenpeace. That appears to be a valid observation, given the reports on how much this activist group has in its war chest. There are views that Greenpeace will give no quarter just to ensure that it can stop our scientists from completing the tests on pest-resistant biotech crops, and our farmers from planting them in commercial quantities.

After all, Greenpeace has its own major stake in this war, which it has chosen to fight on Philippine soil.

However, the public – and our farmers – should have faith that the Supreme Court can and will decide this latest legal question wisely. And for many rural folks, that means listening, at long last, to the people who recognize and appreciate the true potential of biotech crops.


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