They thought they knew who they were up against.

They were certain of the consequences and backlash that would arise.

They had decided that enough is enough and that it was time to assert their rightful claim to the 145 hectares of land robbed by the very banana plantation that they thought promised a better livelihood.

But, never would they have imagined that the plantation would stoop so low, that they would end up paying the price for what is righteously theirs in their own blood.

It was a bloody and violent affair.

The farmers had been camping out to assert their rightful claim to their lands purportedly grabbed by the Lapanday Foods Corporation (Lapanday), one of the largest banana plantation in the southern Philippines province, on the fateful month of December 2016 when the violent dispersal and unexpected shooting unfolded.

“Shooting farmers like rats seems to be mere impulse for these notorious landgrabbers,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos in a statement calling out Lapanday for perpetrating the violence.

UMA short for Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura is the national progressive center of unions, federations, associations and organisations of agricultural workers in the Philippines.

The farmers had been camping out to assert their rightful claim to their lands purportedly grabbed by the Lapanday.

The farmers did not falter. The bullets only reinforced their cause.

Months of relentless fight put up by hundreds of farmers against the plantation and subsequent camp-out in front of the Philippines Presidential Palace from May 1 to 12, 2017 have led to President Rodrigo Duterte himself pledging support in favour of the farmers.

“The government promises to grant you the lands you deserve. These lands are yours,” said Duterte during a dialogue with the farmers.

Duterte specifically gave the green-light to the Philippines Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano to proceed with the installation of the farmers at the contested land in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.

On May 17 this year, the farmers rejoiced as resistance after resistance for the installation process by Lapanday was foiled as the farmers’ third installation process successfully materialised.

Ramos in a statement said that the Philippine National Police together with the Local Government Units in Tagum should also ensure the safety of the farmers after Thursday’s successful occupation of the land back from Lapanday.

It is a journey travelled by farmers which will be seen with much admiration by farmers facing similar plight and social justice advocates.

A journey that was never short of trials and tribulations. One that came with multiple prices.

Shower of deadly toxic pesticides

“It is also time to hold Lapanday accountable for their outrageous act,” said Deeppa Ravindran, the Pesticides Programme Coordinator of PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) upon finding out toxic pesticides were used to drive away the farmers who were simply exercising their rights.

Farmers and their young children were having breakfast on the open land of the banana plantation during their camp out when they were forced to seek shelter as they were greeted by an unexpected aerial toxic downpour.

The downpour slowly burned their eyes and skin as the toxic pesticides began permeating through the surrounding.

They abandoned their food and water that they were consuming and fled to the nearest chapel to escape the spraying plane that was targeted at them to disperse their ongoing camp out.

“The plantation should be made accountable and the authorities should conduct an impartial probe on this appalling act. How can you get away after committing such a heinous act?” an enraged Ravindran exclaimed.

Also according to UMA spokesperson, Lapanday never responded to the aerial spraying allegations.

Not only were the farmers tormented with bullets but also were drenched in toxic shower.

Not only were the farmers tormented with bullets but also were drenched in toxic shower in a plot to chase them away from the contested land.

“Lapanday should also be held accountable for the health risks and effects brought to the workers apart from holding them accountable for their exploitative and oppressive land grabbing schemes,” reiterated PANAP Executive Director Sarojeni Rengam.

Violation of International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management

Apart from the aerial spraying, PANAP also learned during a solidarity and fact finding mission for the Madaum village farmers in Tagum City where the land dispute took place, that some highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) were used in the plantation.

Below are some of the HHPs discovered in the plantation:

1. Paraquat (an acutely toxic herbicide)

2. Glyphosate (Monsanto’s widely used herbicide)

3. Deltamethrin (acutely toxic synthetic pyrethroid insecticide)

4. Chlorothalonil (broad spectrum fungicide)

5. Glufosinate ammonium (broad spectrum herbicide)

HHPs have been flagged for posing particularly high levels of acute or chronic hazards to health or environment based on internationally accepted classification systems such as of the WHO and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling Chemicals (GHS), an internationally agreed-upon system created by the United Nations.

“Pesticides have been a grave threat to many especially in countries of the Global South and rural communities such as those in Madaum,” said Ravindran.

She added, “The pesticides are incompetently managed in the Lapanday plantation. It is a clear violation of the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.”

The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management is a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) framework on pesticide management for all public and private entities engaged in, or associated with, the production, regulation and management of pesticides.

Months of relentless fight have led to President Rodrigo Duterte himself pledging support in favour of the farmers.

It is a voluntary framework endorsed by FAO Members, and supported by key pesticide industry associations and civil society organisations.

It complements legally binding instruments such as the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and voluntary mechanisms such as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).

The fact-finding mission pointed out that the following guidelines of the framework were not adhered to,

1. 5.3 Government and industry should cooperate in further reducing risks by:

i. 5.3.2 Making provisions for safe storage of pesticides at wholesale, retail, warehouse and farm level (26, 27);

ii. 5.3.3 Establishing services to collect and safely dispose of used containers and small quantities of left-over pesticides (28);

2. 10.3 Pesticide industry, in cooperation with government, should ensure that:

i.10.3.1 Packaging, storage and disposal of pesticides conform in principle to the relevant FAO, UNEP, WHO guidelines or regulations (34, 35, 47, 49, 50) or to other international guidelines, where applicable;

ii.10.5 Governments, with the help of pesticide industry and with multilateral cooperation, should inventory obsolete or unusable stocks of pesticides and used containers, establish and (23) implement an action
plan for their disposal, or remediation in the case of contaminated sites (40), and record these activities.

iii. 10.7 Pesticide industry should, with multilateral cooperation, assist in disposing of any banned or obsolete pesticides and of used containers, in an environmentally sound manner, including reuse or recycling, with
minimal risk where approved and appropriate.

The haphazard and improper means of storage of pesticides in the Lapanday plantation’s warehouses to prevent unauthorised people and children from accessing the pesticides, raise a red flag over the safety of farmers, children and even the safety of the environment.

“Lapanday authorities and the pesticide industry have put the safety of farmers and communities nearby at an even greater risk by neglecting this FAO framework on sound pesticide life cycle management practices,” said Rengam while adding this has become common among different plantations in the region.

Bananas of doom

Now, imagine walking along the streets of a market or the aisle of a store where rows of Cavendish bananas are arranged or displayed for sale.

You would probably find yourself gazing upon the bright yellow fruit for which you might have set your mind to buy, for any reason. One, largely for its nutritional value.

However, how much of a value can it have on a person when these Cavendish cultivars are imported from chemically grown farms or plantations such as Lapanday.

Farmers cut the banana trees in the Lapanday plantation once promised them out of poverty as a sign of protest in December 2016.

Pesticide manufacturers claim that the active compounds in their products are found only in small portions and that under conditions of recommended use the “detrimental effect on the health of both users and consumers is extremely unlikely.”

Yet, countless number of pesticide-related deaths and serious illnesses have been reported due to these supposedly small doses.

Giant corporations involved in the manufacture of pesticides such as Monsanto and Syngenta have been widely criticized for their practices which have been transgressing ethical issues.

In the recent hearing from the Monsanto Tribunal presented by five eminent judges who delivered a legal opinion following procedures of the International Court of Justice on April 18, 2017 in the Hague, Monsanto was found guilty on all accounts -- for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide.

These big agrochemical companies have been reaping benefits out of many farmers’ and innocent children’s suffering brought about by the very use of pesticides.

Although pesticides affect the entire population, children often suffer the consequences on a greater magnitude because of different risk factors. Children tend to be smaller in size compared to adults, have greater rates of exposure to food, soil, water and air.

Many tend to overlook the harms of low level exposure to pesticides over a long period of time especially on children.

Three of the five pesticides found, namely paraquat, deltamethrin and chlorothalonil are especially toxic to children and they are listed in Terrible Twenty, a list of pesticides known to be particularly harmful to children’s health.

In some places, bananas of the Cavendish variety are dunked in fungicides to ensure they don’t lose the freshness or their ‘premium-quality’ on their export journey before they reach the stores or markets.

These bananas are not mere fruits. They are fruits of oppression.

They too carry with them many stories of human rights implications of hazardous pesticides.

The price of a Cavendish banana is beyond the figures on its price tag or label.

Next time you pick a banana from the grocery, be mindful of the price that farmers are forced to pay.

Despite successful installation the farmers are reported to being intimidated by Lapanday's armed personnel but they have vouched to defend their lands.