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PHILIPPINES
Greenpeace trespassed against academic freedom-UPLB
17-June-2011 Malaya
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LOS BANOS – Citing academic freedom, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) has vowed to pursue a case against members of the environment group Greenpeace Philippines for trespassing and uprooting experimental plants worth P25 million.

The incident occurred last February 17.

The Provincial Prosecution Office of Laguna has now said the Greenpeace activists will be prosecuted for malicious mischief.

Among those to be charged are Daniel Ocampo and Indian nationals Shavani Shah and Ali Abbas of Greenpeace.

The foreign nationals allegedly joined Ocampo and his team in entering the experimental farm at the UPLB Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), destroying the perimeter fence and uprooting the so-called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant.

The genes of the Bt eggplant have been modified for resistance to the eggplant fruit and shoot borer.

The Bt eggplant is being developed by UPLB-IPB and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II with public sector funding from United States Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

It is currently under multi-location trial and is being assessed for agricultural performance and biosafety.

A resolution, signed by Provincial Prosecutor George C. Dee and passed last May 13, stated as an undisputed fact that the Greenpeace members forcibly entered the UPLB experimental farm with the common purpose to pull up the existing experimental plants which caused damage worth P25 million.

The case will be pursued "to ensure that the violators will be held liable for their actions," said Dr. Luis Rey Velasco, UPLB Chancellor. "We have to protect the interest of the university and defend our academic freedom."

The prosecutor’s decision confirms the law was violated when Greenpeace members forcibly entered the experimental farm, he said.

The field trial "is a legitimate experiment of UPLB designed to evaluate the merits and demerits of the technology," Velasco said. "We followed national policies and rules and regulations. We have permission from the authorities." The Bt eggplant experiment is still in the research and development phase and the prosecutor’s decision was a welcome news for those directly involved in the development of Bt eggplant, said research leader Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo of IPB.

"We are fully compliant with all the conditions stipulated in the biosafety permit for the conduct of field trial of Bt eggplant issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)," she said. "Our activities are strictly monitored by the BPI Post Entry Quarantine Service of and the UPLB Institutional Biosafety Committee."

The Bt eggplant is billed by IPB researchers as a promising innovation that could control the damage of the fruit and shoot borers, increase farmers’ yield and decrease the overdependence on insecticides.

Fruit and shoot borer infestation reduce production and profitability by 50 percent to 75 percent.

Eggplant is the number one vegetable in the country in terms of production area and volume valued at more than P3 billion at current prices.

The current farmer’s practice is considered to be highly hazardous, expensive and unsustainable.

Farmers rely on heavy and often improper use of pesticides to control the pest. It has been documented that chemical spraying could reach up to 70 to 80 times per season or every other day. Farmers even resort to dipping the fruits in a cocktail mix of insecticides.

This is a widespread practice that causes serious environmental and health hazards to consumers and farmers, including their family members who help in the farm.

Socioeconomic studies, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, have shown that farmer adoption of Bt eggplant could provide additional income of about P50,000 due to increased marketable yield and reduced insecticide use by us much as 48 percent.

It is not the first time that Greenpeace is involved in a legal tussle with UPLB. In 2009, Greenpeace and other associates lost a petition they filed against the Liberty Link Rice 62, a herbicide tolerant variety developed by Bayer Crop Science.

The group had earlier petitioned to declare as unconstitutional the public consultation provisions of DA Administrative Order No. 8 and to bar the BPI from approving Bayer’s application to use Liberty Link Rice 62 in the country.

It also sought and got a preliminary injunction from a trial court barring the BPI from approving the application.

The Court of Appeals granted the petitions of BPI and Bayer to nullify the writ of preliminary injunction initially granted by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

The higher court found the arguments of Greenpeace and other petitioners to be "too contingent and speculative to warrant injunctive relief."

 
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