Last January, I was invited again in Oriental Mindoro by our local partners to help them in their protest against the plans to plant GMOs in the province despite the existing ban in the province.
Going back there reminded me of the struggle of the people of Negros Occidental way back in 2009 when their ban on GMOs was put to the test. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture and some business men in the animal industry were trying to convince the local government to allow entry of GMO Corn feeds as well as to lift the ban to allow the propagation of GMO corn. However, the people of Negros from different sectors including farmers, business groups (food and organic industry) and civil society groups stood their ground and the ordinance remained.
The same is happening now in Mindoro where several groups are trying to have the ordinance "revisited" to allow GMOs to be planted legally in the province. Oriental Mindoro together with the other provinces in Region IV-B have signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to pursue organic agriculture years ago, a model that the Department of Agriculture should respect and follow since this is in line with the recently passed National Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 or RA 10068.
But instead of respecting the will of the people and local governments to refuse the entry of GMOs in their provinces, the DA through the Bureau of Plant Industry is even partnering with groups who are promoting the use of GMOs in Agriculture.
As Christy Marasigan, a representative from PAKISAMA, a national organisation of farmers, and spokesperson for the Mindoro Ecological and Sustainable Agriculture Federation (MESAFed) said: "It is unfortunate that DA is undermining the people’s will which is clearly expressed through local ordinances. We do not understand why DA-BPI would still attempt to promote the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture when there is already a standing ban on GMOs." She further added that "as a regulatory agency, the DA-BPI is expected to be unbiased and respectful of the decisions of local governments to ban GMOs and implement the National Organic Agriculture Act. “Whether it’s Bt corn, Bt eggplant or Golden Rice, Mindoreños will continue opposing the entry of GMOs in our province. It comes from a strong belief that the way for agriculture to provide enough food for Filipinos while not harming the environment is through organic and ecological agriculture.”
Together with Christy and representatives from the local government, we visited several corn fields in Pinamalayan and found out that there is indeed illegal planting of GMO corn in Oriental Mindoro. Local farmers have already expressed their concern about contamination since most of them are practicing organic agriculture. The group agreed to submit a letter to the Governor who recently formed the GMO Monitoring Committee to enforce the ban on GMOs.
It makes me wonder why the BPI, despite public opposition, recent scientific studies that show the risks from GMOs as well as the decision of other countries to ban GMOs, is not at all regulating GMOs but instead are going out of their way to defend GMOs. What's in it for them?
I remember an official of the BPI once said that enforcing GMO bans is very difficult. This is exactly the reason why, instead of approving and promoting GMOs, the BPI should instead ban the propagation and field testing of GMOs and instead help in the promotion of organic agriculture in the Philippines.
Daniel Ocampo is Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter for more updates via @dannyoPh