THE National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS) called on the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) to drop the complaints filed against doctors who conducted a study on effects of aerial spray to public health.

“We call upon the Professional Regulatory Commission to act judiciously on the part of the complaint by business interest against public health servants whose primary duty under our Constitution is to uphold citizens’ right to health," NTFAAS head Rene Pineda said in a statement.

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Dr. Romeo Quijano, a professor at the University of the Philippines in Manila and 10 other doctors from the Department of Health (DOH) and one engineer were subjects of the complaint for “alleged unethical conduct during the conduct of the health study.”

The study, which was conducted in 2006, found that 82 percent of the respondents from Sitio Camocaan in Hagonoy, Davao del Sur were exposed to aerially sprayed pesticides; 52 percent of whom exhibit symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning. Pesticide was found in the residents' blood samples and in air and soil samples in the community.

The doctors said in their affidavits that the health assessment was done with the knowledge of all stakeholders including Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) and with the consent of pre-selected residents.

The study was one of the bases that the DOH used when it recommended last year that the Department of Agriculture and the Office of the President issue an order banning aerial spraying in the entire country.

Since the report was first released to the general public, the banana corporation has stepped up its efforts to win over or buy off residents.

"Several of the interviewees were summoned by Ladeco and were made to sign statements contradicting their previous statements recorded on video,” Quijano said.

“Some of those summoned reported that they were intimidated by the company, and that the company gave certain favors to obtain the signed affidavits which do not reflect the truth." he added.

The doctors alleged one of the two complainants at the PRC is a minor, putting into question the veracity of the latter's affidavit.

Civil society groups said the latest ploy by supporters of the aerial spray is "pure harassment."

"The filing of the case against the doctors, highlights the controversial nature of the truth that they helped reveal through their study in Camocaan," said lawyer Marlon Manuel, executive director of the Alternative Law Group (ALG), which has been helping the communities affected by aerial spraying.

"For standing by this truth, they (doctors) are now subject to harassment attacks," he said.

Dagohoy Magaway, president of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spray (Maas), also condemned the alleged harassment.

"It just shows how far they (plantation banana companies) are willing to go to cover their tracks and try to mislead the public that aerial spraying is healthy for the environment?” he said.

Lia Esquillo, convenor of the support group Ban Aerial Spray Task Force Davao agreed.

"The good doctors and engineer who made the study should be hailed as heroes for being steadfast in favor of the truth and public health in spite of the insidious attack by banana multi-national corporations. It's amazing the lengths these corporations go to protect their economic interest at the expense of public welfare," she said. (PR)