Banana workers in DBCP case called to sign up anew

MANILA. Facade of the Philippine Supreme Court.
MANILA. Facade of the Philippine Supreme Court.SunStar File Photo

BANANA plantation workers who were made to continue applying the agricultural pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) in Davao plantations are called to sign up anew for a possible out-of-court settlement as the Second Division of the Supreme Court (SC) ordered that the lawsuit for damages filed against US-based multinational corporations earlier dismissed by the Regional Trial Court be remanded and resolved based on the workers’ contention that the chemical adversely affected their health and that they were not informed of such health hazard.

Affected former workers can go to the Philippine Pioneer Banana Plantation Workers Inc. (Philippine Pioneer) office at 882 Vinzon corner Rustico Cabaguio Street in Barrio Obrero. They can also call landline 237-3220.

Two lawsuits filed against the Standard Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and Steamship Co., Dole Food Company Inc., Dole Fresh Fruit Company Inc., Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc., and Del Monte Tropical Fruit were challenged by the accused companies for technicalities in court procedures instead of whether the workers were indeed made to use DBCP long after it was banned in the United States in 1979.

While the decision by the Second Division chaired by Senior Associate Justice Marvic MVF Leonen was for the petition of the “Survivors of Agrichemicals in Gensan (Saging) Inc. with its chairperson Arturo G. Luardo and its members”, the bigger group, the Philippine Pioneer

represented by the same lawyer Rodolfo Ta-asan are hopeful that an out-of-court settlement will be within reach, as what has happened to similar complaints in the other countries.

Workers in banana plantations in Ivory Coast, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Philippines have sued the multinational companies that manufactured, distributed, or used DBCP, but these have been challenged in the various courts mostly because of technicalities that include lack of evidence of documentation that the workers indeed suffered from DBCP exposure, the statute of limitations or time limit for filing a lawsuit, the jurisdiction of the courts to hear the cases, and allegations of fraud or conspiracy by the complainants and their lawyers. Consequently, out-of-court settlements were reached apparently to avoid prolonged legal battles and negative publicity.

Before they can push for an out-of-court settlement, however, the PPBPWI needs to complete the documents of more than 22,000 workers as they only have complete proof of work documents for around 9,000.

“‘Tong mga 13,000 naay silang papeles, kaya nila kumpletohon ang papeles (Of the around

13,000 who have incomplete documents, they can actually complete these and thus be part of the settlement),” said Philippine Pioneer president Cresencio B. Saycon.

Saycon and Philippine Pioneer secretary Jodivine J. Montecalvo are hoping that these workers will proceed to complete their documents so that out-of-court talks can proceed and they can all stand to benefit from this.

Saycon said that heirs of workers who have already passed on, considering that these are workers who date back as far as the early 1980s, can still benefit if they can provide a Special Power of Attorney attesting their affinity to the person whose documents are filed with Philippine Pioneer.

In the Second Division judgment dated April 12, 2023, and received by the office of the plaintiff lawyer Rodolfo Ta-asan on October 19, 2023, Leonen brushed off the earlier Regional Trial Court’s dismissal of the complaint due to claims of laches or expiration of time limits to file the case, a quibble over why only one person is named in the plaintiff, pointing out that it clearly states “and its members”, and a few other technicalities that do not touch on whether the workers did use DBCP and were exposed to all its toxic side effects.

Leonen’s decision then read, “A final note, courts should avoid dismissal of cases based merely on technical grounds, with the aim of judicial economy — ‘to have cases prosecuted with the least cost to the parties.’” It thus granted the petitioners’ contention against the case dismissal.

“The Orders dated August 31, 2012, and November 6, 2012, of the Regional Trial Court dismissing petitioners’ Complaint and its Orders dated February 11, 2013 and February 14,

2013 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The case is hereby REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court for a resolution on the merits of the case,” the decision read.

Browsing through the Internet on how lawsuits regarding DBCP played out in the past two and a half decades, it showed that:

In 2020, Dole Food Company reached an agreement with more than 5,000 plaintiffs from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras, putting an end to 38 lawsuits against Dole that had been pending in the US and Nicaragua.

In 2006, Dole Food Company settled 16 of the 25 US lawsuits by foreign farm workers who claimed injuries from alleged exposure to DBCP in countries where Dole and its subsidiaries operated. The settlement amount was not disclosed.

In 2002, Shell Oil Company agreed to pay $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit by 800 banana workers from Costa Rica who alleged they were sterilized by the chemical. The settlement also included medical monitoring and assistance for the plaintiffs.

In 1997, Dow Chemical Company agreed to pay $41.5 million to settle a lawsuit by 1,000 banana workers from Panama. The settlement was part of a larger deal that involved other lawsuits by workers from Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Philippines.

In 1995, AMVAC Chemical Corporation agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit by 21 banana workers from the Philippines, who alleged that they were exposed to DBCP. The settlement was the first of its kind in Asia and was seen as a precedent for other cases.

These are but a few of the complaints as many are still facing legal obstacles similar to what was decided on by the SC Second Division. SAE


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