ENVIRONMENTALISTS called on Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte on Wednesday to convene the Water Management Coordinating Council (WMCC) following a "black propaganda" that has been directed at farmers in watershed areas.

Members of the WMCC, an assembly of all environmentalist groups in the city, said they need to convene again for the full implementation of Davao's Watershed Code and to discuss a misinformation drive that has been going on since the time of the elections against the measure.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Lawyer Jenny Ramos of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Davao, a member of WMCC under the environment committee, said Duterte, as the chair of the WMCC, should call for a convention in order to address concerns "that have piled up" since the council's meeting in December 2008.

"A lot of matters have to be discussed. For one, we have to fully implement the Watershed Code, which was approved in 2007. Along with really identifying exactly what areas need to be protected, we need to identify what has happened to the provision in the code that after three years, the banana plantations in these watershed areas should be phased out. Considering it's already three years after, we need to discuss that," Ramos said in a press conference Wednesday at Lispher Inn in Juna Subdivision.

In a separate interview, Mayor Duterte said he is willing to sit down with environmentalists to discuss their concerns, saying the misinformation on the Watershed Code "felt like black propaganda" during the election period.

"Actually, nakabalo na ko ana since katong election. Isa na sa mga issue nga gilabay sa akoa (I knew about the misinformation on the watershed code during the election period. That was among the things that were thrown against me) I considered it then as black propaganda," Duterte said in an interview at Central 911 office along Ponciano St.

"Wala ko kasabot nganong naay grupo nga mag-spread ug ing-ana nga idea. Ang dapat lang is dili dapat sila magbuhat ug bagay nga makadaot sa panginabuhi sa mga tao (I do not understand why a group of people would spread such misinformation. They shouldn't be playing with the lives of the people)," Duterte added.

In addition to the misinformation, Ramos said the WMCC has to decide in clarifying which are the boundaries of the identified watershed areas.

"Actually, hanggang ngayon, hindi natin alam what are the exact boundaries nitong na-identify na mga watershed areas wala tayong indications. Hindi rin natin alam kung gaano karami ang nananatiling may plantation sa taas," she said.

Dagohoy Magaway, farmer sector representative and member of group Interfaith Development Interventions (Idis), said since the election period, "a smear campaign" has been going on in barangays within watershed areas "as if to form an opposition from the communities against the Watershed Code."

"There is a disinformation campaign going on against the Watershed Code of Davao City. Certain people are going around in barangays in the third district, distributing flyers and questionnaires with wrong information about the Code. The intent seems to be to sow confusion and fear among the farmers so that they would block the implementation of the Code," Magaway said.

A copy of the flyer that was obtained from a respondent from Tawan-Tawan Sitio Gading showed the code was depicted as an anti-farmer ordinance.

"Among the disinformation stated in the flyer was that only fruit and hardwood trees will be planted among the barangays within the watershed areas. This raised fear that planting root crops, which are the main source of food for upland dwellers, will be banned. The flyer also went on to state that the code was passed without having gone through public information," Magaway said.

Magaway said they have no specific group they suspect to be behind the smear campaign.

"Kung siguro ang titignan ninyo kung sino ang makikinabang kung hindi mai-implement ang Watershed Code, then perhaps ang maiisip talaga ay yung mga malalaking kompanya ng saging within these watershed areas," Magaway said.

WMCC Civic Sector Representative Dominador Lopez also said the Watershed Code and the city ordinance banning aerial spraying are connected.

"Ang Aerial Spray Ban and ang Watershed Code ay in touch actually. Both provide limits to the banana industry. Kung maiimplement yung Watershed Code, hindi na pwedeng magkaroon ng banana plantation within the watershed areas. The aerial spray ban in the city has also been posed as against banana plantations. Sa aming environmentalists naman, kung may aerial spraying within these watershed areas ang pestisidyo ay aabot at aabot pa rin sa supply ng tubig," Lopez said.

There are those who point to some candidates who were trying to destroy the actions of the past Duterte administration to gain votes since the flyers during campaign period were distributed by those associated with these candidates' party. But this was not confirmed.

"No specific suspects, pero siguro ang iisipin lang is bakit at sino ba ang may malaking interes sa area?" Magaway said.

According to the code, portions of the watershed identified as Conservation and Agro-Forestry/Agricultural Non-tillage Areas are declared as environmentally critical areas. As such, activities within these zones will be highly regulated.

Among the prohibited acts in Conservation Areas are: land conversion to whatever classification, commercial tree farming except those related to reforestation, and water drilling except for household use.

Ramos said the WMCC needs to conduct correct massive information and education campaign about the code, and do the ground delineation on the conservation and agro-forestry non-tillage areas, where certain portions have prohibited acts provided by the code. (JCZ)