12 May 2003
GMO hunger strikers to go to Palace
By RHODINA J. VILLANUEVA
Even after hunger-striker Luisita Esmao of the Pambansang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama) was hospitalized Friday for her deteriorating health condition, farmer-supporters and members of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) still vowed to continue with their protest action in front of the Department of Agriculture central office in Quezon City against the commercialization of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn and elevate their case to MalacaÃ±ang.
Roberto Verzola, secretary-general of the Philippine Greens and one of the hunger-striker mainstays, said they will elevate their petition for a moratorium on all field releases of Bt crops including rice, corn and cotton to President Arroyo.
"We will go to MalacaÃ±ang tomorrow morning and continue our hunger strike there," said Verzola, who already looked frail, but insisted that he is okay.
"We hope she will grant us an audience as soon as possible," the hunger strikers said in a statement.
Besides asking the President to order a thorough investigation of the review and approval process for Bt corn, the protesters are also asking MalacaÃ±ang to conduct a nationwide campaign to ask farmers not to plant Bt corn yet, or if they have done so, to uproot the plants immediately.
Noli de la Cruz, an official of Pakisama, said that Esmao's condition did not dampen the spirits of the protesting farmers and, in fact, made them much braver in their resolve to fight the promotion and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as the Bt corn, in the country.
"The farmers and members of nongovernment organizations are bent on continuing with the hunger strike which is now on its 21st day. Even Ka Sita [Esmao] is determined to participate again once she is discharged from the hospital," de la Cruz said.
Esmao was initially rushed on Friday night at the East Avenue Medical Center after she complained of weakness. She was later transferred to the Lung Center of the Philippines where she is trying to regain strength by being fed intravenously.
"Though Ka Sita is in stable condition, the doctor has not yet advised her release from the hospital. I know she was ordered to eat solid food, but she continuously refuses," de la Cruz.
Verzola was joined at the strike line Sunday by running priest Fr. Robert Reyes and Anne Larracas, also of the Philippine Greens. Reyes is said to be on his sixth day of protest against GMOs.
A number of hunger strikers pull out and take a rest and a new batch will take over every now and then. This include Arma Bertuso and Mark Cervantes, both of Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education; Gigie Cruz of Philippine Greens; Antonio Fernando, Manny Onalan and Roy Cabonegro are of NGOs supporting the action.
A medical team has also been visiting the protesters. In cases they are unavailable, members of NGOs supporting the strike monitor the health status of the hunger strikers.
"We have been eagerly waiting [for Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr.'s response]. It is unfortunate that until now we haven't heard anything from the concerned officials, particularly from the Department of Agriculture," Verzola said. The protesters have been urging Lorenzo to order a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt corn in the country. "The appalling insensitivity to the hunger strikers is beyond comprehension. By postponing the moratorium, Secretary Lorenzo has frittered away valuable time. The onset of the rainy season has brought us nearer to the point of no return, when irreversible contamination by Bt corn of our native corn varieties will have occurred, permanently poisoning our corn fields," they said in the statement.
Earlier, Lorenzo pledged to come out with a position on the issue last week. However, nothing is heard from him until press time Sunday.