thanks to wytze for this pro-GM report of the Philippines' government decision to stop biotech research
Biotech row rages
The Manila Times, Philippines, by Manolo B. Jara
February 20, 2001
THE heated and sometimes bitter debate continues and, this time, biotechnology proponents appear to be on the receiving end.
This occurred when President Macapagal-Arroyo made a statement that henceforth, the government would no longer allow research on genetically-altered crops or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs, as they are more popularly known).
GMO crops are plants which have genetic material from other organisms spliced into them to boost their yield or cut production costs for farmers.
Last week, the President said her government was putting a stop to biotech research, citing a groundswell of opposition to the introduction of GMO crops and foods. "There is great objection to this from civil society. So the Philippines will not be initiating or pushing for this experimentation, she told a Malaca?ang press conference.
Her statement means a 360-degree turn from the policy first adopted by then president Corazon Aquino who was installed in Malacanang by EDSA I that ousted the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. She saw biotechnology as a vital tool, especially its long-range value that would benefit farmers, especially in improving their lives.
President Fidel Ramos continued with this policy and until now his Agriculture secretary, Salvador Escudero, speaks out regularly in favor of biotechnology.
And so did deposed president Estrada and his Agriculture secretary, Edgardo Angara. They even expanded on this by issuing a policy statement that biotechnology would anchor the governmentÃ•s thrust for national food security.
Now, all this has gone for naught. Herself the direct beneficiary of EDSA 2 that deposed the corrupt Estrada regime, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo seems to have abandoned a proven approach to agricultural modernization and pandered to the demands of some elements in civil society.
Environmentalists claim that modified plants are a potential hazard. One of the dangers, they say, is that these crops may prove so resilient that they could conquer other plants in their habitat and proliferate unchecked.
Against these "scare tactics" are solid and scientifically-proven arguments that biotechnology could, indeed, help hasten agricultural modernization.
The use of genetically-altered crops as biological control agents, for instance, will reduce drastically the use of harmful chemical pesticides. Their use will also increase farm production without harming the environment.
But with her statement, it looks as if the President will now allow the advances made by Filipino scientists and researchers to go to waste. It will also effectively block the introduction of GMO crops that have proven effective in increasing food output in foreign countries.
Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo is apparently unaware her statement will also put an end to ongoing research being done by a nationwide network of local biotech scientists and researchers. With the Los Ba?os-based National Institute of Molecular Biology and Technology (BIOTECH) at the lead role, the network consists of 300 researchers based at the University of the Philippines System in Diliman, Quezon City, Manila, Los Banos and the Visayas.
Former president Ramos issued Executive Order 526 in 1995, constituting the network. In this light, the President should reconsider her stand and order an in-depth study on biotechnology, particularly its potential benefits.
If she stands firm on her statement, fears are that this would consign the country's agricultural sector to traditional practices and methods akin to confining that sector to the Dark Ages in farming.