Harassment and Lawsuit: Banana Plantation vs. Dr. Quijano

A report on impact of pesticide use by Lapanday Agricultural Development Corporation (LADECO) on a nearby village, Kamukhaan, Digos, Davao del Sur was first made public in the article “Poisoned Lives,” published in the Philippine Post last March 6, 2000. This earned its authors, Dr. Romeo Quijano, and his daughter, Ilang-Ilang, as well as the publishers and editors of the newspaper, a P12 million libel case filed by LADECO.

The case was described by Davao Office of the Prosecutor as “a matter of public interest” and “written in good faith to call the attention of the public to the present state of health and risks of the residents of Kamukhaan, and for the government to take appropriate action,” and was eventually dismissed in January, 2001 .

In order to counter the findings of PAN Philippines, LADECO officials forced 7 individuals to sign a counter-affidavit denying allegations of poisoning, which were submitted to court.

Ever since the findings were made public, the local organization noted efforts by the company to woo the villagers by setting up livelihood programs and medical assistance. Still, regular pesticide sprayings continued.

ABS-CBN’s investigative TV show The Correspondents took interest in Kamukhaan and proceeded to do a documentary.

A few months after the fiscal dismissed the libel case, in June 2002, LADECO filed a civil case for P5.5 million worth of damages against the Quijanos based on the same story. The case is also on-going. (The civil case was dismissed by the regional trial court in 2007, was then elevated by the company to the court of appeals where finally in 2013, the court of appeals arranged a settlement where the company withdrew the case while Dr. Quijano will no longer pursue the counter-claim of damages).

In the IFFM’s report last February 2003, the presence of armed goons was noted by the team. The villagers were scared to talked to them, after apparently having been threatened by the company. At the same time, the team noticed that residents seem to be appeased by a basketball court, day care center, and sanitary pans constructed by the company, as well as cooperatives that provide them with loans.

Furthermore, the local organization reported that a hired killer is freely roaming the community, and one local organizer has fled the village for fear of her life. Dr. Quijano, upon his visit last June 2003, was prevented from entering the village because of death threats against him.

Last July 4, 2003, the Department of Justice Undersecretary suddenly reversed the fiscal’s earlier decision to dismiss the libel case. Upon learning this, the lawyer of the Quijanos immediately filed a memorandum at the regional trial court and was assured verbally that no warrant of arrest would be issued. On September 8, 2003, however, Dr. Quijano was arrested based on a warrant of arrest issued on August 20, 2003.  Five practicing journalists (Ilang-Ilang Quijano- reporter of Pinoy Weekly; Leti Boniol- Inquirer desk editor; Danilo Mariano- ABS-CBNnews.com editor; Nick Legaspi- Malaya deskperson; and Carlos Conde- New York Times correspondents) were also included in the arrest warrant, although it was only Dr. Quijano who was actually arrested. Dr. Quijano and the others subsequently posted bail. The day after posting bail, Dr. Quijano was again served the same warrant of arrest by the police  from another  police district disguised as a postal courier. The police left after being shown the release order issued the day before.

Hundreds of international civil society organizations wrote to then Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., whose family owns LADECO, to dismiss the suit against Dr. Quijano.

On December 10, 2007 (Human Rights Day), the court ruled in favor of Dr. Quijano and his daughter, dismissing the case. The judge ruled that there was “no convincing proof [of]…any malicious intent of defendants against the plaintiff,” and ordered the company to pay the Quijanos a portion of their expenses.

“I am relieved that this harassment suit has been dismissed at the Regional Trial Court. I deplore the fact, however, that this patently malicious suit was allowed to prosper and linger for several years. I hope this harassment will stop at this level and not proceed to the higher courts. An ordinary community resident facing this same predicament would not have the capacity to endure this grossly unjust judicial system. The struggle for people’s welfare is not finished. This is not just about winning a case. This is more about winning the people’s struggle against oppressive social structures that allow corporations to exploit and poison people in poor communities like Kamukhaan. I sincerely thank all those who supported us in this court case and urge them to continue supporting the struggle for social justice,” Dr. Quijano said.

However, Dr. Quijano was once again harassed through charges of “unprofessionalism” filed before the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). International CSOs denounced the move against Quijano as “another attempt to discredit the Filipino chemical health expert for his groundbreaking work.”

The case of LADECO against Dr. Quijano is considered one of the known Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) against environmental defenders in the Philippines.

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