POSTSCRIPT / October 20, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why’s Noy hesitating to join quake victims?

NO EXCUSES: President Noynoy Aquino cannot stay in quake-ravaged Bohol the way he did in Zamboanga during the recent Moro insurrection. Doing so would dramatize his administration’s inability to respond adequately to the cries of the calamity victims.

It cannot be that the President does not have the time. Check Malacañang’s daily press releases on his activities and you will see that there is hardly anything urgent that he does on most days.

But the President had two days for visiting Seoul. The South Korean president, safe and comfy in her Blue House, will still be there next month or next year. Siguro naman, the lady leader could have waited — if asked.

And it cannot be that it is physically impossible for President Aquino, who can deploy the Army, Air Force and Navy with one command, to reach the remote barangays of Bohol.

If Noli de Castro, the news anchor that he once publicly scolded in an ABS-CBN program, can reach the quake victims with his resourceful TV crew, why cannot the President with the awesome resources of the government be there ahead?

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USE HIDDEN FUNDS: We who sit in the comfort of our homes watching TV reports of the devastation feel somewhat guilty unable to help the hungry and frightened survivors pleading for food, water, shelter and other basic needs.

And Malacañang… aside from gathering forced savings from various departments to fatten the presidential pork barrel, what is it doing with the billions in lump sum discretionary funds that only the President can touch?

If the government with its P2.006-trillion budget cannot attend in a big and timely way to the urgent needs of calamity victims in Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor, what is it there for?

One wants to scream hearing Malacañang use the calamity to argue for keeping the discretionary Disbursement Acceleration Program funds of the President for use kuno in emergencies!

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BASIC LESSON: Pity the quake victims waiting outside their crumbled dwellings for the caring presence of the national government. It is a tribute to their patience that they are not yet rioting.

But one finally wept when the Loboc children’s choir broke into a prayerful song, a cappella, of love and hope in front of the ruins of the centuries-old church where they used to sing. Was President Aquino, wherever he was at the time, watching?

The dozen or so children stood and sang, not in the choir dresses worn when they won top awards in global competitions. They were in the simple clothes, one of them was in shorts, of a community picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

One basic lesson keeps coming back: In trying times like this, the government, in the person of their President, should be physically with the suffering people.

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SCARE TACTIC: The unrelenting campaign of Europe-based activist group Greenpeace on the local science community, meanwhile, may have made many Filipinos think that the safety of a genetically modified eggplant variety is under question.

It looks like even some justices in the Court of Appeals, who may not be experts in plant science, appear to have been won over by the power of Greenpeace’s scare campaign.

The eggplant variety is the much-talked about Bt Talong. It was developed by Filipino scientists from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. As explained in media, Bt Talong is naturally resistant to pests and therefore does not require being sprayed with or dipped into chemical pesticides.

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MISINFORMATION: In 2011, Greenpeace members destroyed a trial farm planted with Bt Talong, for which they now face criminal charges. The assault, however, generated attention, enabling it to raise an alarm against “contamination” of the environment.

The campaign was so pervasive that even the CA was moved to permanently stop UPLB scientists from completing Bt Talong field tests. The CA said they “failed to prove” that the variety is safe for human consumption and for the environment.

Greenpeace is now capitalizing on the CA decision. So Dr. Emil Javier, former UP president and UPLB scientist behind the research on agricultural biotechnology, comes to defend the safety of Bt talong.

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WRONG VENUE: Javier said the CA was not and never will be the proper venue for determining the safety of a genetically-modified plant variety.

That task, he said, rests on the Department of Agriculture monitoring the effects of these types of crops, the Department of Health studying the effects on humans, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources monitoring the effects on the environment.

The agencies decide on the basis of studies of the National Committee for Biosafety of the Philippines composed of representatives from the Department of Science and Technology, the Filipino community of practicing scientists, the DENR, DA and DOH.

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DARK AGES: The DA, DENR and DOH have approved the release of Bt Talong after a long study and strict scrutiny of the NCBF. Even the Food and Drug Administration has said that Bt Talong and similar crops are “as safe as their conventional counterparts”.

How could the CA have ignored the NCBP and tri-agency assessment and approval process? What “enlightened” the CA on its dark way to arriving at a decision?

A genetically-modified crop variety like Bt Talong is a highly regulated plant variety and has to conform to strict local and international standards of safety to humans and to the environment.

By ignoring the evidence presented by men of science, CA justices may have brought us back to the dark ages. That is frightening, not just to scientists but also for the entire country which is looking for new and better ways to feed its growing population.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 20, 2013)

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