‘Justifying the unjustifiable’

UNIVERSITY of the Philippines scientist Dr. Eufemio Rasco has written an open letter to several Davao-based newspapers, saying that his sense of justice obliged him to respond to the barrage of critical news and editorials about the Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) t eggplant experiment that has pervaded the local media over the last several months.

Having led the team of scientists who conducted a field trial on the transgenic eggplant that were forced to be uprooted on orders of City Hall for alleged lack of transparency,  Rasco clarified that it is not true that the University of the Philippines in Mindanao failed  in informing the public about the experiment on the fruit-and-shoot borer resistant  eggplant.

Rasco,  who has been honored with the rank  of  national academician by the National Academy  of Science and Technology (NAST) said anti-Bt eggplant  campaigners complained that UP Mindanao did not exert enough efforts to  educate the public about Bt eggplant. But he pointed that they didn’t really have the “resources to match the well funded international campaign to discredit Bt eggplant.”

Despite funding problems, he said they were able to conduct two seminars in the last two months where  barrage officials of Mintal and Bago Oshiro who had been pushing for the ban on the field trial were invited to attend. In fact, Rasco said he talked for nearly two hours at the forum, but it seemed the local media people were only interested in what a visiting Indian scientist’s “misleading statements” having had a bias on the  Bt eggplant.

As early as May 2010, he said that UP Mindanao had been posting public information’s sheets on the proposed Bt eggplant experiment, contrary To City Hall’s claim.  Two community representatives were also involved in the  UP Mindanao Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) which monitors the confined field trial.

“Based on the above, it is very clear that UP Mindanao has done more than what is required by law to inform the public. If there was no ‘public consultation’ before the approval of the permit as alleged in many critical editorials, it is because there was no response to the posting of the Public Information Sheet. The protocol is for the IBC to do the public consultation if the _Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the permit issuing agency receives any adverse comment. The BPI, as far as I know, did not receive any adverse comment before the permit was issued,” he wrote.

He said that while the IBC did not post the information  sheet in city hall, the committee placed them in four target areas, which is already a   “substantial compliance” to the permit issued by City Hall in June.

According to Rasco it was  really unfair that just because there was no information posted at city hall, it  was already a just ground for the local government  to destroy an experiment that has passed scientific risk assessment by independent bodies  and were “ being conducted in good faith, and does not pose an imminent threat to life or environment.”

“Justice requires that punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. (But) You do not put a person before a firing squad because of shoplifting.  Worse, you do not put a person before a firing squad because his father committed shoplifting, Rasco said.

This also the “ moral equivalent”  of what the city government, through its city agriculturist  Leo Avila has done. Apparently, researchers  of UP Mindanao were punished for a mistake that was supposed to have been committed by the agency that granted them the permit to conduct the field trial.

“When do we say that the effort to inform the public is enough? Unlike the anti-GMO campaigners, my research project does not have the resources to put people in every city government office everyday to lobby for its cause.  Neither does it have the scheming mind to plan an attack on UP Mindanao at the time that most of its constituents were in downtown Davao participating in the annual lantern parade.

Neither does it have the resources to persuade newspapers to support its cause regularly. Neither does it have the resources to mobilize “campaigners” at a moment’s notice for a show of force. No wonder, most if not all of the articles that came out of the local papers were critical of Bt eggplant and UP.” Rasco said, He said that he was just clarifying the issue since the “local newspapers had been trying to justify the unjustifiable acts” of City Hall’s Avila and his cohorts.

UP Mindanao is the aggrieved party, but the local press is too biased or too misinformed to recognize this, Rasco said. Joel Paredes

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