Nenita Orcullo angered Davao’s banana companies. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Nenita Orcullo says because of her stand against the aerial spraying of pesticides, multinational banana companies launched a “massive campaign,” which included intimidating workers in banana plantations, to make sure that she would be defeated in the May 14 elections. Orcullo, who authored the law that will implement the ban this month, said what happened to her sends a strong message to the city’s officials that they, too, can be destroyed by the banana industry.

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By Germelina A. Lacorte
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY — Now it can be told: Nenita Orcullo lost in her bid for a City Council seat in last month’s elections not because her opponents resorted to massive vote buying, cheating and other political fraud. According to her, she lost because the banana companies in the city campaigned against her in retaliation for her stand against aerial spraying that angered the multinational banana companies

Orcullo, who ran in the third district under the dominant political group Hugpong of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, said the big multinational banana companies campaigned against her during the eve of the election on a scale she described as “so massive” it was impossible for her and her supporters to respond and avoid the impending loss.

“They campaigned against me not only among their workers but also among those occupying their lands,” Orcullo said last week. She authored the city ordinance, which the City Council passed five months ago, that bans the aerial spraying of pesticides in the city’s banana plantations.

But Betty Francia, executive asssistant of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), the industry group based here, laughed off Orcullo’s claim. “We never had anything to do with it,” Francia said, referring to Orcullo’s defeat.

Lapanday, one of the banana companies operating in Orcullo’s district, refused to comment on the allegation, saying that they were too busy attending to the ongoing court hearings on the ban to even manage to campaign against Orcullo.

The ordinance banning aerial spraying was crafted following complaints from residents and environment groups of the adverse effect of aerial spraying on people and the environment. The ordinance banning aerial spraying in Davao is now being questioned in Court by a group of banana growers and exporters who sued the city government and demanded for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance’s enforcement June 23 this year.

The industry is opposing the ban because, according to the companies, it would entail huge losses on their part and probably even require the firing of many of the industry’s workers. But the City Hall’s lawyers have sought to discredit the industry’s assertions, calling them lies and misleading.

Orcullo said that even kargadors, stevedores and other port workers who haul huge containers of bananas for exports were persuaded not to vote for her. She said she lost about 15,000 votes because of the campaign. Orcullo was one of only two local candidates of Duterte’s Hugpong that lost in the last elections.

“They threatened to kick workers out of work or to eject tenants from their lands if they voted for me,” Orcullo said. “My politics may have been defeated but my principle remains strong.”

Orcullo said big banana companies gathered all their workers and families on the eve of the elections, asking them not to vote for her because the measures that she proposed, the banana plantations claimed, will lead to the closures of their companies and cost the workers their jobs.

They made the appeal not only to workers but also to the workers’ families, wife, children, in-laws, parents who are not even living with them, Orcullo told in an interview. “Their campaign was so massive,” Orcullo said. “I underestimated their strength.”

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