POSTSCRIPT / August 27, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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After Luneta, what? Will Noy ever listen?

QUESTION: After Luneta, what?

The question invites us to review quickly yesterday’s anti-pork barrel protest picnic at the park and to anticipate the steps needed to consolidate the gains of the mass action.

That the event failed to achieve its goal of drawing one million warm bodies to the Luneta and other locations across the country is not a fair measure of its success or failure.

But the mere fact that the specter of a people’s march forced President Noynoy Aquino to promise to scrap the pork barrel in the national budget is success enough – never mind that his double speak was just calculated to douse the rage building up.

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ONE MESSAGE: The Luneta peak turnout of 80,000 was compelling all right, but it should remind us not to announce exaggerated crowd targets. (In the first place, the assembly area was not big enough to hold the one million warm bodies advertised.)

It was helpful, though, that there were echo protest rallies in other locations in the provinces and abroad voicing the same grievances.

But the focus of the leaderless Luneta rally – which was the abolition of pork barrel in the Congress and in the office of the President — would have been sharper had the motley crowd been guided by a unifying direction.

Some of us hoped that Cardinal Chito Tagle would provide that guiding light, but he left after giving a brief message and leading the singing of a pastoral song. The Manila archbishop asked Filipinos to be heroes (“bayani”) and show to the world that they are honorable (“marangal”).

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PORKY PATRONAGE: A better indication of whether the rally succeeded or not is if ever the pork barrel stashed away in the budget is scrapped as promised by the President and a number of legislators.

To have impact, the abolition of the pork barrel should happen within the life of the current 16th Congress, not in late 2015 as Budget Secretary Butch Abad said in an earlier clarification.

With the absence of a firm commitment from Malacañang, it is evident that more power pressure and follow-up rallies are needed to prompt the desired reforms from government.

President Aquino, assuming he is listening, does not appear ready to cut the umbilical cord through which the Palace’s porky patronage flows to the Congress.

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SOLONS’ ROLE: Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda indicated as much yesterday in a press briefing wherein he insisted that congressmen are necessary participants in the setting aside and use of countryside development funds.

He explained that congressmen, being district representatives, are first to know what their localities need and are in the best position to relay their requirements to the national leadership.

This posture of the Palace confirms the widespread impression that President Aquino is not ready to exclude members of the Congress from the executive process of tapping the pork barrel for projects.

Feeling helpless without his symbiotic relationship with lawmakers, the President is neither willing nor ready to displease them. He needs their votes to push legislative initiatives and block unwanted congressional actions.

How long can Malacañang close its eyes to the basic fact that the main function of congressmen and senators is lawmaking, not expediting pork barrel contracts and setting up projects — a task that is executive, not legislative?

Maybe what is needed to jolt the President is a bigger Luneta, Part II? Yesterday’s rally could just be a hint of what is to come.

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BIOTECH WAR: On another front, it is good that the Food and Drug Administration is now responding, although a bit belatedly, to questions on modern biotechnology and the safety of food products developed through it.

Filipino scientists led by Dr. Emil Javier, former University of the Philippines president and UP-Los Baños chancellor, are locked in a messy legal row with powerful Europe-based pressure group Greenpeace.

The fight stems from Greenpeace moves to stop Filipino scientists from completing the field trial of a biotech eggplant variety called “Bt Talong” which has built-in resistance to plant pests and does not require chemical pesticides to survive.

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FDA TO THE RESCUE: As the public has been hearing mostly the scary side propagated by Greenpeace, the FDA has come to the rescue of Javier’s group on the “Bt Talong” issue.

The FDA said that “food produced through modern biotechnology that are available in the market are as safe as the conventional food”. It explained that biotech food products are subjected to tests that are stricter and more rigorous than their conventional counterparts.

The rigid tests run from 10 to 14 years on the average. They include laboratory tests, small-scale field trials, and pre-commercialization testing and evaluation. The FDA said that “up to this point, there is no evidence of harm to man”.

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GLOBAL BACKING: The FDA assured the public that “Bt Talong” is a heavily-regulated food item through a so-called National Biosafety Framework.

It said that the safety of food products produced through biotechnology are backed by international science bodies, including the American Medical Association, the French Academy of Sciences, the national academy of sciences of such countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico and India.

The safety of biotechnology food products is also recognized by the European Commission itself and such United Nations bodies as the Food and Agriculture Council and the World Health Organization.

In the local front of the biotech war, Philippine scientists led by Javier are pitted against political activists locally employed by Greenpeace.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 27, 2013)

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