Even before the year started, I was already informed that there are moves from some sectors to reintroduce GM corn in the province of Oriental Mindoro despite provincial ordinance banning its propagation.
This move is coming from the National Corn Board which submitted a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to the Provincial Government of Oriental Mindoro under the guise of financial assistance of P1 million as part of Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s Sagip Saka Advocacy Project.
There is nothing wrong about programs that are meant to help Filipino farmers per se. What’s really wrong about this program, however, is the insistence of the National Corn Board forthe use of genetically modified corn varieties especially in a province where organic agriculture is a priority and a ban on GMOs is in place. There is nothing in the MOA that explicitly mentions the requiring of the use of GMO corn. The proponents even secured a certificate of safety from the Bureau of Plant Industry that the eight (8) approved varieties are approved for propagation and are safe for human and animal consumption and the environment. So why insist on pushing the use of GMO corn when there are so many other varieties of corn that are non-GMO and are acceptable in Oriental Mindoro?
In 2005, Mr. Tomas Datinguinoo, a farmer from the agricultural town of Naujan in Oriental Mindoro went public and exposed the economic losses he incurred after believing in the hype from a Monsanto technician that GMO Corn (Bt corn) will give him higher yields and economic gains. After planting Bt corn for one season, he indeed experienced an increase in yield (due to the fact that he never planted hybrid corn before but traditional corn varieties) but instead of earning more he actually only broke even.
Bt corn seeds are more expensive than traditional/open pollinated varieties (OPV) and hybrid corn. The main difference in cost is that with traditional/OPVs, farmers can save seeds from their harvest and plant them again while with hybrids and GMOs, they have to buy seeds for planting all the time. Aside from the costs of having to buy the expensive patented seeds, Mang Tomas was also encouraged to use more bags of fertilisers by the Monsanto technician. In fact, he was told to use 15 bags, which translates to thousands of pesos added to the production cost.
Breaking even for Mang Tomas meant more than just not having the needed funds to plant the next season, it also means that he will not have the capacity to pay for the loan he took from the Monsanto technician. In the succeeding years after that wrong choice, he had to mortgage his farm and became a labourer in his own land just to pay back what he borrowed.
But the story of Mang Tomas is not an isolated one. He was among the few farmers who shared to the public the story of deception and false promises from the GMO pushers. His story did not stop there since after going public he faced repeated visits from the technician and had to deal with harassment from the sectors coming from the agrochemical companies.
Oriental Mindoro’s Provincial Ordinance No. 03-2004 passed on June 21, 2004 and amended by Provincial Ordinance No. 002-2007 passed on February 19, 2007 clearly “ prohibits any person to cause the entry, sale, plant and/or conduct of any laboratory or field-testing or any activity whatsoever for the propagation of or experimentation related to GMOs of any plant, animal or microorganisms in any area within the territorial jurisdiction of the Province of Oriental Mindoro.” This was further strengthened by Memorandum Circular No. 150-05 “Implementation of Provincial Ordinance on Genetically Modified Organisms” issued on October 12, 2005 by then Governor Arnan Panaligan mandating the City/Municipal Mayors of Oriental Mindoro in the implementation of the ban on GMOs in the province.
Clearly, Mindoro and the other provinces of MIMAROPA (Mindoro Oriental, Mindoro Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) which signed an agreement to promote organic agriculture are rejecting GMOs for the benefit of farmers, consumers and the environment. And yet, sectors in the government, even those tasked to regulate GMOs are promoting and forcing the use of these risky seeds that are in no way proven safe for the environment and human and animal consumption.
Yesterday, I was in Oriental Mindoro to lend assistance to our partners and allies. Among the groups present were Oriental Mindoro Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture and Development (ORMISAD), Mindoro Ecological and Sustainable Agriculture Federation (MESAFED) and PAKISAMA, who together staged a protest to oppose the conduct of the symposium “May “K” sa Biotechnology: Kasiguruhan, Kalikasan, Kabuhayan.” They consider this activity illegal and a disinformation to the public. Biotechnology is not only about GMOs and the activity is a disrespect to the will of the people of Oriental Mindoro who have worked hard to ban GMOs in the province. The debate whether GMOs are safe or would benefit farmers is finished and the bottomline is the province has an ordinance and promotes organic agriculture in line with Republic Act 10068 or the National Organic Agriculture Act passed in 2010.
Even the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the Provincial Agriculturist wrote to Governor Alfonso Umali, Jr. stating that the ordinance is still enforced and that the position put forward by the Oriental Mindoro Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture and Development (ORMISAD) on the conduct of the symposium should be heard.
So why is the National Corn Board still in Oriental Mindoro conducting an activity in violation of the ordinance and the people’s will? The underlying reason is clearly in terms of why GMOs are produced by companies: profits...but not for the farmers.
How about the farmers who have suffered from the false promises of GMOs? I last visited Mang Tomas 2 years ago and he has paid his debt and is now practicing organic agriculture and uses traditional seeds.
However, it is clear that Oriental Mindoro has not heard the last from GMO proponents. But one thing is clear: they will fight back and defend their right to a GMO-free province.
Daniel Ocampo is a campaigner for Sustainable Agriculture at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines.