8 May 2003
Hunger strikers - day 17: We accept no compromise against GMOs
Hunger strikers: We accept no compromise against GMOs
By RHODINA J. VILLANUEVA
Protesting farmers and members of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), who are holding a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agriculture central office in Quezon City, said they will only stop their action if the government finally orders a moratorium on the promotion and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.
Now on their 17th day of protest, the hunger strikers, who are opposed to the commercialization of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, are gaining support from some 70 organizations, both local and international.
Luisita Esmao, one of the hunger strikers and a member of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, said that unless the Department of Agriculture or President Arroyo acts on their demands, they will go on with their protest action. She told Today that they would not enter into any form of compromise and that only their demanded moratorium would appease them.
"The concerned government officials have been telling us that they are already conducting a review of GMOs, although we are aware that field testing of giant agrochemical corporations of Bt crops have been continuing," Esmao, who already looks frail, lamented.
With Esmao in the hunger strike Wednesday were Roberto Verzola of the Philippine Greens and four other farmers. The hunger strikers, which started with nine, were left with Esmao and Verzola as the persistent strikers. The others leave the line from time to time and new faces join them. "We were originally nine in the hunger strike. Though some of us pull out once in a while, other farmers and NGO members take over," she said.
The strikers have been subsisting only on liquid, mainly on water and sometimes juice. They have erected a makeshift hut in front of the agriculture department's office where they have been staying since they started the strike on April 17.
Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna Wednesday visited the protesters and said that he feels frustrated over the inaction of the government regarding several resolutions concerning biotechnology bills filed in Congress.
"To date Bayan Muna has already filed two bills asking for the suspension of the field testing of Bt corn crops as, well as on mandatory labeling. We also filed resolutions asking that an investigation be conducted against the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines regarding its approval of the commercialization of Bt corn. However, none of which were given attention by the concerned officials," Ocampo said.
He said there could really be a great pressure the multinational corporations are exerting on the government. "No matter what, we will give these protesters our full support. We will continue to come up with statements opposing the promotion of biotechnology in the country," Ocampo vowed.
On Monday Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. appealed to protesting farmers to give his office at least one week to come up with its own report on the health and environmental effects of the controversial Bt corn. Lorenzo said he instructed a team to be led by Assistant Secretary Segfredo Serrano to study the issue. "Based on these studies, we will review if there is any scientific basis regarding the concern of the protesting farmers on Bt corn, and afterwards act accordingly," he said, adding that his office does not have any conclusive report and information yet on the issue.
The DA technical team will inform the secretary of the results of the study before the week ends. These will be used as basis if a moratorium against the commercialization of Bt corn be issued.
Nongovernment organizations, led by Greenpeace, alleged that once released into the environment, damage caused by the GMO products, such as Bt corn, will be irreversible. "There are so many unresolved issues and there is no scientific consensus yet that guarantees its safety," Greenpeace argued. Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner, stressed that the fundamental basis of genetic engineering is "invalid," and that this gives rise to unexpected and unpredictable effects rendering any risk assessment unsound and irrelevant.
"The irreversible release of genetically engineered organisms to the environment has potential to cause serious harm," Baconguis warned.
SUPPORT THE HUNGER STRIKE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Please send letters in support of the hunger strikers to the Secretary
Examples of points to make (please use your own words) are:
* We join the activists of NO GMOs who are on hunger strike to ask you and your government to impose an immediate moratorium on the field testing and commercialisation of GMOs in the Philippines;
* Such an act would demonstrate that you support the farmers of your country over corporate interests;
* Liability for contamination has not been addressed;
* Many scientists agree that GM is an imprecise technology with unknown effects; health, environmental and economic dangers have not been addressed.
*DRAW ATTENTION TO THE CONCERNS OF SCIENTISTS - see above and more examples at: http://ngin.tripod.com/foodstatements.htm