SC reverses ruling on Bt ‘talong’ tests
The Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed its decision rendered in December last year that stopped the field testing of the controversial genetically modified eggplants and issuance of new permits on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The high court, in an en banc ruling, granted the petitions for nine motions for reconsideration filed by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) “talong” (eggplant) proponents that earlier asked the high court to set aside its ruling on the ground of mootness [situation in which there is no longer any actual controversy.]
The petitions were filed by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines.
The Supreme Court spokesperson, Theodore Te, explained in a media briefer that “these cases, which stemmed from respondents’ petition for writ of kalikasan, were mooted by the expiration of the Biosafety Permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry and the termination of Bt talong field trials subject of the permits.”
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law which provides for the protection of one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” as provided for in the Constitution. It may be sought to deal with environmental damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.
The high court agreed that the case should have been dismissed “for mootness” in view of the completion and termination of the Bt talong field trials and expiration of the biosafety permits.
Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe penned the new decision, which replaced the one written by now-retired Associate Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr.
In the new decision, the high court said Bt talong proponents neither went beyond the field-testing phase nor distributed the product commercially.
The lack of commercial propagation meant there was no guaranteed aftereffect that needed to be adjudicated.
“Any future threat to the right of herein respondents or the public in general to a healthful and balanced ecology is therefore more imagined than real,” said a portion of the new high court ruling.
The court decision added that it should not have ruled that the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order No. 08-2002 was invalid.
Te explained that the question of the order’s constitutionality should not have been acted upon because “this matter was only collaterally raised” by Greenpeace in its bid to halt the Bt talong trials.
Farmers and processors of corn in the country “welcome[d] with great relief” the new Supreme Court decision.
Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PhilMaize) said the December decision had threatened corn farmers’ welfare and disrupted the domestic supply chain.
“Kudos to [the high court] for upholding the tangible benefits that biotechnology brings to the Filipino people and our country’s economy,” said PhilMaize president Roger Navarro.
Following the December ruling, the Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued a joint department circular to replace the DAO No. 8 issued in 2002.
In the Philippines, corn is the only GM crop that is so far allowed for commercial production. Filipino farmers grow two GM corn varieties—one that is resistant to the Asian corn borer and another pest that is tolerant of herbicides.
The bulk of the country’s corn output is intended for animal feed production. About 70 percent of locally produced corn for feeds are genetically modified, according to the agriculture department.
Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, PhilMaize said around 70 percent of the country’s corn output—pegged at 7.5 million tons in 2015—was genetically modified.
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