You do not talk to Moises Torrentira, Sr. about aerial spraying in Cavendish banana plantations killing people or sending them to hospitals for respiratory diseases due to exposure from fungicides. If you do that he would engage you in a debate and present himself, his wife and eleven children as Exhibit No. 1 to dispute your argument. Because Torrentina, 58, and his family had lived all their lives near a banana plantation which provided him work that fed his family for years. Working as a flagman for five years to guide spray planes—before the planes used the hi-technology Global Positioning System (GPS)—in 1969, he retired as a banana farm worker in 1992 as a tractor operator. Now semi-retired, he had used his retirement pay to plant bananas in five hectares of his land in Baguio under a growership contract with Davao Fruits Corporation, subsidiary of Sumifru Philippines.
Torrentira, Tatay Jose to friends, would let out a loud guffaw about talks straying to allegations of banana workers becoming sterile after exposure to fungicides sprayed aerially to fight off the deadly leaf disease Black Sigatoka. “How come I have eleven children?” he would ask with a naughty grin, saying fungicide spray never factored in his manliness.
Tatay Jose has resurfaced to talk about bananas and aerial spraying as the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro hears a petition by the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) against a Davao City ordinance banning aerial spraying in the banana plantations. PBGEA is contesting the ordinance passed by the Davao City Council on the basis of alleged health risks to people.
While the CA is hearing the appeal, the Interface Development Intervention (IDIS) and the Mamamayang Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS), which lobbied for the approval of the ordinance, are conducting massive rallies in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro in what PBGEA said is an attempt to influence the court.
“These accusations by the NGOs are baseless and are plain lies. It’s us who know the truth and what is really happening here in the communities near the plantations,” said Mang Jose.“Before the GPS technology, there were the flagmen. We would hold up flags as signals for the pilots so they would know where and when to spray. I was one of the first flagmen hired by the banana plantation here,“ said Tatay Moises, recalling that he would sometimes be hit by the spraying.
“I never got sick and remains strong despite being exposed. If only the people being fooled by the NGOs who claim that we are dying here could see me, I know they too would believe that aerial spraying is not causing us any harm,” he said. “All my children are healthy, had a happy childhood living near the plantation and attended decent schools. If these NGO’s claim that exposure to aerial sprayers can cause infertility and sterility, then why do I have 11 children who are achievers in school and are even scholars,” added Tatay Moises, whose eldest is 32 and the youngest 10 years old.
Leopoldo Baguio, a barangay councilman since 2002 of Barangay Tigatto that hosts one of the banana plantations, supports Tatay Jose. A banana worker for 20 years, his house near a plantation is not a stranger to drifts.
“None of my seven children ever got sick,” he says. As a barangay official he knows how his once rebel-infested barangay was transformed into a progressive community by banana plantations that provided jobs and helped improved the living conditions of the people.Baguio and Tatay Jose are thankful that the CA has issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the ordinance. The Court of Appeals should not hear the NGOs who are peddling lies about aerial spraying but the thousands of workers that would be displaced due to the ban, they said.
PBGEA said about 20,000 workers in Davao City alone are in danger of losing their job if the ban is imposed on the banana industry that is the city’s major dollar earner and employer.