Experts from the Department of Health (DoH) were denied entry Thursday by the management of the Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation, Inc. (Tadeco) to the company-owned hospital in Panabo City where victims of toxic chemical inhalation from the nearby town of Braulio Dujali in Davao del Norte were confined.
Ana Remolar, information officer of the DoH-Southern Mindanao and member of the investigating team, said they were made to wait at the gate and eventually turned away by the Tadeco staff.
According to Remolar, another DoH team waited to be let in until 7 p.m. but was again turned away by company personnel who said the management was still conducting an emergency meeting.
"Hanggang sa gate lang kami (We were stopped at the gate) and we waited for 20 minutes. Another team from DoH also waited until 7 p.m. only to be told that the Tadeco management is still conducting emergency meeting," Remolar told the Inquirer over the phone.
The team from the health department was supposed to get blood samples of the victims who were transferred to the Tadeco Hospital from two other hospitals in Carmen town and Panabo City proper, all in Davao del Norte.
At least 79 people, most of them children, were hospitalized after they fell ill, after inhaling fumes of a toxic chemical used by the Tadeco in their banana plantation operations in the village of Tanglaw in Braulio Dujali. Some of the victims even passed out.
Remolar said they were able to interview some of the victims and several residents living close to the Tanglaw Elementary School. She said construction workers working on a school building said the smell was so strong that they themselves felt sick at one point.
Aside from getting blood samples of the victims, the investigating team was supposed to verify how the chemical mocap, a nematicide, was applied. Nematicide, labeled under category 2 for its toxicity category, should be properly introduced.
"According to the information that we got, the workers introduced the chemical through broadcast method. The locals termed this as 'sabwag'. In areas close to people, nematicides are not supposed to be broadcast but injected or introduced through poke-hole method," Remolar said.
Had the company allowed them to enter, Remolar said, these issues would have been cleared by now.
Tadeco is owned by the Floirendos. "We have also been trying to get in touch with hospital personnel but they have been refusing to answer our calls. Nevetheless, we will still try to send out a team for the most needed investigation," Remolar said.
Meanwhile, the militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) said the incident was a bad omen in light of the controversies that surround the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).
"This is what we feared could happen because of the irresponsible handling of pesticides and toxic waste by corporations, institutions and even by the government itself. It is sad to say that this is just the beginning and such poisonings would increase and expand when the JPEPA is ratified," said Danilo Ramos, secretary general of KMP.
Japan, he said, got its supply of bananas from the Philippines, a huge business that comprise 58 percent of Japan's total fruit imports or 79 percent of the total bananas exported by the Philippines.
"With the JPEPA, the exports of fruits as well as the use of harmful chemicals will definitely increase. The Macapagal-Arroyo regime has already targeted two million hectares to increase the landholdings controlled by foreign agro-corporations like DOLE Philippines which has 90,000 hectares, Tadeco with 55,000 hectares, Phil. Packing Corp. with 44,000 hectares and Del Monte with 20,000 hectares," Ramos said.
"If JPEPA is ratified, it will open the floodgates to pesticide poisoning and toxic contamination to the general public," Ramos added.
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