16 May 2003
Ag Minister cancels dialogue with hunger strikers and refuses moratorium
"This is the height of bad faith... it's clear from our direct and close encounter with the Secretary that he is not familiar with the many issues connected with Bt corn. He relied on his advisers, who seemed to see only one side of the issue." - Hunger striker, Roberto Verzola
Note also how a USAid-funded lobby group is apparently being used to block legislative controls.
'No moratorium on 'Bt' corn' -- D.A.
The Department of Agriculture Thursday said it will not declare a moratorium on the commercialization of the controversial genetically engineered Bt corn, disappointing the hunger strikers now on their 24th day of their foodless protest at the grounds of the Department of Agriculture in Quezon City.
Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. was scheduled to hold a dialogue with the strikers at 4 p.m. last Wednesday, but he canceled it reportedly in agreement with Executive Secretary Rigoberto Tiglao.
DA officials instead held a noontime press conference to inform the media about their decision not to grant a moratorium.
Lorenzo and his advisers, along with government media, went to the hunger strikers' area around 2:30 p.m. while the supporters of the hunger strikers were still in their offices, busy preparing and compiling materials for the 4 p.m. dialogue and none of the people that the strikers asked to come had arrived. Finding the two hunger strikers alone, they asked the hunger strikers to acknowledge receipt of their letter notifying the rejection of the petition for a moratorium. They also informed the strikers that they had cancelled the 4 p.m. dialogue because Tiglao was not available.
"This is the height of bad faith," said Roberto Verzola of the Philippine Greens and one of the two remaining original strikers.
The hunger strikers were preparing a dossier of materials, including recent findings and legal issues, that they hoped would convince Lorenzo to call a moratorium on the distribution of Bt corn. While the materials were not yet ready, the two hunger strikers interacted with Lorenzo. Verzola said that "it's clear from our direct and close encounter with the Secretary that he is not familiar with the many issues connected with Bt corn. He relied on his advisers, who seemed to see only one side of the issue."
Party-list group Bayan Muna, meanwhile, raised Thursday the possibility that foreign corporate interest groups, including the USAid-funded lobby group Agile, or the Accelerating Growth, Investment and Liberalization with Equity, could be blocking legislative measures that seek to either suspend or regulate the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country pending a thorough examination of their risks to people's health and the environment.
"It may be recalled that Agile [on its website] has vowed to forestall the passage of what it called 'antibiotechnology legislations pending in Congress's -- presumably a part of its technical assistance work for the Philippine government," Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said. He added, "I understand that the portion of their website has been withdrawn after the controversy on Agile broke out earlier this year. But that doesn't mean that the group has already stopped operations."
Ocampo urged Congress to immediately act on several pending legislations seeking to heighten public awareness and institute measures to safeguard consumers from any possible hazards of transgenic crops. He appealed to the House leadership to prioritize four different legislations, which seek to clarify several issues surrounding biotechnology. "Like the hunger strikers against Bt corn, these forgotten legislations in Congress are getting very little attention from concerned authorities," Ocampo said.
House Bill (HB) 1647, authored by Marikina Rep. Del de Guzman, requires the mandatory labeling of all GM crops and GMO-derived food products, while HB 3381 seeks to suspend the entry, field-testing and propagation of GMOs pending a thorough evaluation on food safety, health and environment standards. The latter was authored by Bayan Muna. House Resolution (HR) 238, also by Bayan Muna, seeks to probe the mandate of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines in the field-testing of Bt corn. The fourth measure, HR 922 seeks to investigate the decision of the Bureau of Plant Industry approving the commercial propagation of Monsanto's Bt corn variety "Yieldgard."