Members of the MAAS (the movement against aerial spraying) arrived this morning in Davao. After being met by city officials at the city hall, they proceeded to our church for mass. They all looked sad and felt defeated.
For two months - from the first week of November up to the middle of January - they were camping infront of the court of appeals in Cagayan de Oro - to press the court to make a ruling that would affirm the decision of the regional court in Davao upholding the constitutionality of the ban on aerial spray that was passed by the city council. They braved the heat and the rain, including police harrassment while waiting for the decision of the court. They even spent Christmas and New Year in their tent. Last week, the court came out with the decision - 4 justices favoring the banana plantation owners and 1 dissenting opinion. This means that the planes will once again spray pesticides over the banana plantations and the nearby farms and villages and endanger the health of the people.
During the mass, the members of MAAS shared their experiences and their frustration. They felt that their efforts were in vain. When it was my time to speak, I tried to console them and give them hope. This is the gist of my homily (which was delivered in Cebuano):
The last time you came to this church last year, you were so happy and felt victorious. It was a thanksgiving mass. The judge had ruled that the aerial spray ban which the city government passed was constitutional.
Now you are back, filled with sadness and grief. You feel defeated. Yet it is important that you count your blessings -what did you win?
You won the support of so many people from various sectors of society all over the country - from the Archdiocese of Cagayan, the diocese of Malaybalay, the CBCP-BEC national assembly, the various schools and communities, local government officials. I heard that Congressman Rufus Rodriguez is going to file a bill that would ban aerial spraying all over country.
You were able to pressure the Court of Appeals to make a ruling. So the case will now be heard at the Supreme Court where we will have a better chance since the justices cannot be bought. For the last several months, the media has reported about alleged corruption in the judiciary especially at the Court of Appeals. There is a perception that these honorable judges can be bought. So you have succeeded in moving the case up to the Supreme Court -this is an achievement. There have been cases that have been unresolved at the Court of Appeals even after so many years.
The struggle continues. We do not give up hope. The terrain of struggle will be carried out in Manila and also here in Davao - in the courts, in the streets and in the farms.
Remember the story of Jesus did not end in Good Friday - there was an Easter Sunday. I hope that the next time you come to this church, your hearts will be filled with joy. It will be a victory celebration.
After the mass, the leaders and members of MAAS held a press conference. They first presented a copy of the dissenting opinion of Justice Borja which they praised. And then they also presented a copies of the majority opinion which favored the Philippine Banana Growers and Employers Association (PGBEA), and they tore these to pieces. The affirmed their commitment to continue their struggle.
It is still too early for the PGBEA to celebrate. I just pray and hope that their consciences will be awakened to the harm that they are doing to people near the banana plantations.
The signs in the t-shirt of the MAAS people says it all: "Dili kami Peste." (We are not pests!)
As one of the farmers said: "they spray pesticides on us and our children and we get sick so that they can have shiny and unblemished bananas that they can sell abroad."
I am filled with disgust and indignation at the banana plantation owners who put profit above the welfare and health of the poor people.
I am filled with contempt for those in the judiciary who perpetuate this injustice.
Woe to you - someday, the Lord's justice will prevail.