HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque has reportedly snubbed banana farmers, agrarian reform beneficiaries, and other supporters of aerial spraying as the group sought for a meeting last December.

The group wanted to personally talk and present to the health secretary its own side on the controversial issue of aerial spraying in banana plantations, and to discuss the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) to stop aerial spraying.

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"Why was Dr. Duque afraid to face us while casually discussing issues with Dr. Quijano? Is he hiding something from us?" asked Rodrigo M. Villanueva, head of the agrarian reform beneficiaries of Diamond Farms in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte and one of the leaders who went to Duque's office.

At the exact moment that the group sought an audience with the health secretary, aerial spray ban advocate Dr. Romeo Quijano was allegedly also inside.

The group was only met by Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, Dr. Yolanda Oliveros of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control and Engineer Anna Ferrer of the Occupational Health department.

Farmers' Plight

Members of the group told the DOH officials that while they acknowledged the agency's concern about the health of the people near the banana farms, they must also consider the plight of the farmers.

Villanueva pointed out that it is very unjust for the health agency to use a study that is allegedly tainted with bias as basis for a recommendation that may lead to the death of the banana industry.

"Duque should have listened to our side instead of just allowing Quijano to have access to his office if he does not have anything to hide. Otherwise, we would be forced to believe that he is part of this conspiracy to kill this very industry," he added.

Villanueva said the 2006 study on Camocaan, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, which the department funded, was even questioned by the World Health Organization and the University of the Philippines-Manila for its being inconclusive, but Duque refused to open up to the discussion by coming up with a recommendation.

The agrarian reform beneficiary added that Duque should immediately recall the recommendation, which was not even the position of the Inter-Agency Committee on Environmental Health, and allow an impartial discussion and study on the issue.

Baffled

Other agrarian reform beneficiaries, independent banana growers, and the multinational firms are now wondering what the real issue is about as there are reports that the Department of Agriculture is looking at the economic repercussions of converting to ground spraying.

"The issue that should be addressed here is whether aerial spraying is hazardous or not," an agrarian reform beneficiary told Sun.Star Davao.

Moreover, the health department has reportedly passed the ball on resolving the issue of aerial spraying into the hands of the agriculture department.

At the last minute, on the afternoon of December 16, Malacañang cancelled the dialogue on aerial spraying ban.

The Palace would supposedly just form a task force on aerial spraying that would make a final study on the issue. This move clearly favored the industry.

Snubbed too

Incidentally, it's not just the pro-aerial spraying who has been snubbed by the government.

Last Deember 16, Malacañang called off a meeting with the aerial spraying protesters at the last minute.

The farmers who have been rallying in the National Capital Region just learned of the cancellation as they were already in a prayer vigil at Mendiola Bridge. (BOT)