Wake Up, Philippines!

RP expands Bt crop area by 100,000 hectares more

Posted in Agriculture, BT Crops, Environment, Social Issues/Concerns by Erineus on February 15, 2009

The Philippines has posted another biotechnology (Bt) crop growth with a 100,000-hectare expansion of genetically modified (GM) corn to 350,000 hectares, although expansion may later slow down as it saturates the market.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has reported the significant 40 percent growth for 2008 from the previous year’s 250,000 hectare-area for the Asiatic corn borer-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

However, ISAAA Global Coordinator Randy A. Hautea said growth in the future may slow down as Bt corn is now eating up on the hybrid corn area.

“One-third of our yellow corn is now Bt corn,” Hautea said in a press briefing, implying a saturation in the market.

More technologically-advanced farmers planting hybrid rice are normally the ones who have the technical know-how and have the resources to shift to the genetically modified (GM) corn.

ISAAA attributes the fast growth of the country’s biotechnology corn area to the spread of information regarding the benefit farmers get from Bt corn. While organizations like religious ones may be blocking expansion of the technology, he said farmers in religiously-devout countries like Brazil and Argentina have influenced each other in adopting GM technologies.

This, he said, may happen in the Philippines and its neighboring countries which are now adopting biotechnology crops after the country pioneered Bt corn’s commercialization in 2002.

Already 55 countries have officially adopted biotechnology crops of which 25 including the Philippines publicly declare their approval of it.

The other countries with big areas are biotechnology areas are the United States, 62.5 million hectares; Argentina, 21 million; Brazil, 15.8 million; India and Canada, 7.6 million each; China, 3.8 million; Paraguay, 2.7 million; South Africa, 1.8 million; Uruguay, 700,000 hectares; and Bolivia, 600,000 hectares.

While certain countries have policies against-growing GM crops, 30 countries including Japan publicly declare approval for GM crops’ importation.

Moreover, in South East Asia, there are three or four countries that are growing GM crops despite non-official approval. These are Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Lydia Lapastora, an Isabela farmer who has become millionaire out of growing Bt corn, said in the same press briefing that her average yield for the Roundup Ready yellow corn, a herbicide-resistant GM corn, is at 6.4 metric tons (MT) per hectare.

Her yield even reaches to seven MT per hectare which is way higher than the 5.5 MT per hectare average for non-conventional corn.

Lapastora, a Magsasaka Siyentista 2008 awardee, said her net income for the herbicide-resistant corn has increased to P45,215 per hectare, up from P34,194 per hectare using the conventional corn.

This as she eliminated her P1,500 per hectare cost for corn borer control and as her weed control cost dropped to P1,240 per hectare in the GM corn compared to P2,750 per hectare in the conventional corn.


Glimpses: Of traitors and heroes

Posted in Church, Government, Social Issues/Concerns, State, Traitors/Heroes by Erineus on February 1, 2009

It is not difficult to talk about traitors. There are so many of them around, easy to spot because they usually hold positions of power or hold great wealth. The worst traitors come from the Church and the State, both being the dominant and domineering institutions of the country over the past 400 years. The Church and the State are natural sources of vision and virtue, of courage and heroism, of nobility and purity. When they live up to their highest calling, an enlightened society is born and raised.

The story of the Philippines, however, is a story of failure of leadership. In a democracy, the failure of society may mean the failure of the citizenry. “For the people, by the people, of the people” is more than a democratic principle, it is democracy’s fundamental philosophy. That is why I cannot point to the people as the culprit for the massive poverty and corruption that shame the nation. Our poverty is not a choice — it is an inherited status, a curse from birth. Corruption stems from abuse and exploitation of power, and the people are its victims, not beneficiaries.

The State in colonial times used force to rob the people of their land and loot the country of its resources. The Church at that time shared in the loot and cooperated with the State to manipulate the native population into submission. There is little need for me to retell an old story. I am not a historian, only a student of history. And if our history were not so crucial to our present, I would prefer to simply move on in cadence with time.

Today, however, is a special moment when history and the present meet to reconcile and change a course, or agree to continue a path where a people’s soul wallows in slavery and darkness. After more than twenty years, another moment emerges with a special invitation for courage and faith. Once again, change knocks loudly in the hearts of Filipinos, asking to come in, bearing messages of encouragement from America.

When slavery has been one’s reality for centuries, it conditions the mind and spirit to cope by first resigning to it, and eventually by accepting it as a natural state of life. It used to be that parents of poor families would dissuade their children from even imaging a better life. It was, for those parents, simply fantasy to do so as life would never allow such a shift from poverty to comfort or abundance. Ambition was not only useless, it actually was dangerous. Ambition only got the poor into trouble with the Church and the State who were always vigilant against their subjects hoping and dreaming.

We must remember history, not only the events and the special personalities but also the effects of it that we carry to the present. If change seems to come so slowly, this is only a direct result of a history that has so deeply embedded submission and resignation in the psyche of ordinary and poor Filipinos. Those among us who clamor for change would do well to understand the process and effect of colonial times, to understand the exploitative nature of the Church and the State all those centuries. Once we do, we can design a mechanism to deconstruct the imposed horizon blanketing a captive’s mind and ultimately allow the rainbow to inspire a benighted people to follow the light.

In a democracy, government is the one tasked not only to govern but to lead and inspire. In a religion, the church is expected to nurture and to pastor. In the Philippines, however, both government and church have failed miserably as institutions in their mandated roles. What has saved the day for them are pockets of good workers on the ground, public officials who defy the collective look of graft and abuse by their sincere and dedicated service, priests and nuns who shun the pomp of position and protocol and instead take the posture of washing the feet of the poor.

Where government and church as institutions have oftentimes been traitors to their higher calling, ordinary workers among them have been heroes and have carried the day for them. Even when whole institutions become corrupt, the light of a few honest and courageous members can continue to provide hope to an exploited society. Because we have many traitors who keep Filipinos in the dark, who abdicate the empowerment of the many for fear of losing historical advantages, we need the heroes who will stand on firm ground, who will stay rooted in righteousness despite the corrupt environment.

When we have heroes to point to, they become sources of light. I have found many in my life, a “barangay” [village] chairman here and there, a mayor here and a governor there, an honest treasurer, a determined teacher. They have been sources of light. The Church in the Philippines has her own heroes, even a few martyrs. There are those parish priests who defy their own poverty and always have something for the poorest in their areas. And who can discount the many religious orders of nuns who truly mother their flock as their way of life.

Treachery has brought poverty to a land of abundance. It is treachery against public duty, against morals and ethics. It is treachery against the teachings of Christ whose disciples in the Philippines have not been faithful reflections of. How can a godly gift of abundance be cornered by the greedy in a land where religion teaches love and sacrifice giving as its primordial virtues? But in the face of the worst distortion and perversion of democracy and Christianity, heroes have not been bullied to squat and be quiet. To those heroes we owe so much, maybe even everything thus far.

Thus far, only thus far. Heroism is not only for the rich, the powerful, the learned. Heroism is a birthright, a forgotten one for most, but always there as a choice for each of us. We have relied on our heroes for so long but mistook their roles as saviors when they served most of all as inspiration for our own heroism to awaken. Heroes save, but heroes inspire, guide and empower us to be heroes ourselves. This is the invitation of change – for us to be heroes in this moment of history. Change is not a call for higher incomes, for more economic opportunities. Change is a call for heroes to save their motherland. Change is a call to be brave, and then for the brave to serve as models of virtue, of generosity and courage, of faith and patriotism.

* * *

Confucius: “Cowardice is seeing what is right, and failing to do it.”

By Jose Ma. Montelibano
First Posted 23:54:00 01/29/2009

Commentary: The long road to social reform

Posted in Agrarian Reform, Justice and Peace, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 1, 2009

“[A] man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” With these words US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address invoked – oh so gently – the long and bitter struggle for racial justice in his country: 625,000 dead in the Civil War, the lynchings, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, violence at Selma, the murder of Martin Luther King, and all the rest.

The wider meaning could be that social change does not come easily or cheaply when it runs up against powerful vested interests – a lesson that has been impressed upon us here in the Philippines time and again.

Take, for example, the recent failure of Congress to enact a reform or an extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Farmers’ organizations, committed lawyers, Church people and bishops had lobbied, marched, camped and fasted in the effort to move the nation’s lawmakers to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution, but all in vain. The landlords and their allies in Congress, including the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were too powerful; thus what came out was a mere token six-month “extension” of the law, with its teeth – compulsory acquisition – removed. Here we have a classic example of elite democracy, in which political power is held by an economic elite and used to defend the interests of that elite – at the continuing expense of the non-elite.

The excuse of the congresspersons, that they need more time to consider the issues, inspires ridicule. As though the facts were not clear, for example, in the massive study of Arsenio Balisacan, which was discussed by Solita Collas-Monsod in her column more than a year ago. (“A look at CARP’s impact on poverty and growth,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12/1/07) While pointing out there and in other studies the many weakness and failures of CARP, Balisacan does show unequivocally that land ownership promotes both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Equally distressing for those concerned about social reform and social justice is the decision of the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, declaring unconstitutional a Davao City ordinance prohibiting aerial spraying of fungicides on banana plantations in the city. For years, workers living on the plantations with their families, aided by non-government organizations, had lobbied against the spraying, which they say causes skin and eye irritations, tightness in the chest, and various other ailments. The lobbyists gathered impressive testimony both from the affected residents of the plantations and from medical and other experts, and eventually convinced the city council to pass an ordinance forbidding the spraying, with a three-month deadline for the companies to switch to other forms of spraying.

The powerful Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) took the issue to the courts, claiming that the fungicides are not hazardous to health (contrary, it seems, to a warning on their labels), and moreover that three months was not sufficient time for a conversion to other forms of spraying. The Regional Trial Court examined the facts quite thoroughly and affirmed the validity of the ban. Thereafter the PBGEA went to the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, claiming among other things that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet and that the Davao City ordinance was therefore unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals took more than a year to act on the appeal. At the same time, the NGOs kept up a steady drumfire of support for the ban and of pressure on the Court to decide the case and give the workers some relief from the poisons descending regularly on their homes, their workstations, their children on the way to school. They marched, held prayer rallies, obtained support from other NGOs, and from the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Davao. They came in a caravan to Cagayan de Oro City and camped out by the Court of Appeals even over Christmas. There was full support from Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Honesto Pacana of Malaybalay in Bukidnon province where aerial spraying is forbidden, from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Risa Baraquel. The campers caroled before the Court of Appeals, fasted, shaved their heads and marched in a torchlight parade by night. The solicitor general, in response to a request from the appellate court, issued an opinion supporting the validity of the ordinance.

But all in vain, it seems. On Jan. 9, the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro declared the ordinance unconstitutional, basically on the ground that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet. It could have, I am told, affirmed the validity of the ordinance while recommending that the Davao City council grant an extension if after sincere efforts by the banana producers to meet the deadline, this would turn out to be impossible.

The case will now probably go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, it reminds social reformers of a significant fact. Having begun at the bottom, where many believe a campaign should begin, having organized, and lobbied local government successfully, having gained a victory at the legislative level, reformers may face another line of defense on the part of those clinging to their vested interests – the courts.

The courts also stood in the way of justice and equality for Obama’s father and American Negroes for two centuries before him. But in time, through dogged persistence and sacrifice, even this obstacle was overcome.

So let it be in the Philippines.