Court rules that the lack of commercial propagation meant there was no guaranteed after-effect that needed to be adjudicated
This is bad news from the Philippines in the shape of the reversal of the Supreme Court ruling that temporarily stopped the field testing and commercialisation of GMOs in the country, which affected in particular the field trials of Bt eggplant (talong).
1. SC reverses ruling on Bt "talong" tests
2. Philippines Supreme Court reverses Bt talong ruling
1. SC reverses ruling on Bt "talong’" tests
By Estrella Torres, Ronnel W. Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 July 2016
The Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed its decision rendered in December last year that stopped the field testing of the controversial genetically modified eggplants and issuance of new permits on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The high court, in an en banc ruling, granted the petitions for nine motions for reconsideration filed by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) “talong” (eggplant) proponents that earlier asked the high court to set aside its ruling on the ground of mootness [situation in which there is no longer any actual controversy.]
The petitions were filed by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines.
The Supreme Court spokesperson, Theodore Te, explained in a media briefer that “these cases, which stemmed from respondents’ petition for writ of kalikasan, were mooted by the expiration of the Biosafety Permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry and the termination of Bt talong field trials subject of the permits.”
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law which provides for the protection of one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” as provided for in the Constitution. It may be sought to deal with environmental damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.
The high court agreed that the case should have been dismissed “for mootness” in view of the completion and termination of the Bt talong field trials and expiration of the biosafety permits.
Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe penned the new decision, which replaced the one written by now-retired Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr.
In the new decision, the high court said Bt talong proponents neither went beyond the field-testing phase nor distributed the product commercially.
The lack of commercial propagation meant there was no guaranteed aftereffect that needed to be adjudicated.
“Any future threat to the right of herein respondents or the public in general to a healthful and balanced ecology is therefore more imagined than real,” said a portion of the new high court ruling.
The court decision added that it should not have ruled that the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order No. 08-2002 was invalid.
Te explained that the question of the order’s constitutionality should not have been acted upon because “this matter was only collaterally raised” by Greenpeace in its bid to halt the Bt talong trials.
Farmers and processors of corn in the country “welcome[d] with great relief” the new Supreme Court decision.
Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PhilMaize) said the December decision had threatened corn farmers’ welfare and disrupted the domestic supply chain.
“Kudos to [the high court] for upholding the tangible benefits that biotechnology brings to the Filipino people and our country’s economy,” said PhilMaize president Roger Navarro.
Following the December ruling, the Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued a joint department circular to replace the DAO No. 8 issued in 2002.
In the Philippines, corn is the only GM crop that is so far allowed for commercial production. Filipino farmers grow two GM corn varieties—one that is resistant to the Asian corn borer and another pest that is tolerant of herbicides.
The bulk of the country’s corn output is intended for animal feed production. About 70 percent of locally produced corn for feeds are genetically modified, according to the agriculture department.
Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, PhilMaize said around 70 percent of the country’s corn output — pegged at 7.5 million tons in 2015 — was genetically modified.
2. Philippines Supreme Court reverses Bt talong ruling
ISAAA Crop Biotech Update, 27 July 2016
[links at the URL above]
In a unanimous decision, the Philippines Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, reversed its December 2015 ruling, which temporarily stopped the field testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.
In the En Banc session, the Supreme Court granted nine Motions for Reconsideration filed by the Bt talong (eggplant) proponents, and issued a new one, dismissing on the ground of mootness, the petition for Writ of Continuing Mandamus and Writ of Kalikasan filed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) and Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG).
The Supreme Court agreed with the petitioners that the case should have been dismissed in view of the completion and termination of the Bt talong field trials and the expiration of the Biosafety permits in 2012. The Court also stated that it should not have resolved the case on its substantive merits due to mootness, and should not have acted on the constitutional question of whether the Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order 08-2002 was unconstitutional, citing that this matter was only collaterally raised.
The Court also stated that the exceptions to mootness were not present and thus the Court should not, in the first place, have decided the matter.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court not only stopped the field testing of Bt talong, but also temporarily stopped any application for field testing, contained use, propagation, and importation of GMOs; it also nullified DA AO 08-2002, saying the order lacked the minimum safety requirements under Executive Order 514, which established the National Biosafety Framework.
For more information about agricultural biotechnology in the Philippines, visit the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center website.