The Philippine Supreme Court has reversed its 2015 decision temporarily halting the field testing, propagation and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the country, saying the DA order assailed had been superseded by a joint 2016 circular by five departments, setting a different guideline and framework for the trials.
In an en banc session Tuesday, the justices granted the motions for reconsideration for it to set aside its December 2015 decision. The MRs were filed by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc, Crop Life Philippines, Inc., Environmental Management Bureau and University of the Philippines Los Bafios Foundation, Inc. and University of the Philippines.
The decision should be set aside, said these movants, on the ground of being moot, adding that the petition of Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines and several others seeking a continuing mandamus and writ of kalikasan and a temporary injunction against the field testing of GMOs - especially Bt eggplant - no longer has basis.
The movants said SC should not have resolved the case in the first place because of mootness; and should not have acted on the constitutional question of whether Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order 08-2002 was unconstitutional. This question, they said, was "collaterally raised" only by Greenpeace et al.
“The cases, which stemmed from respondents' petition for writ of kalikasan, were mooted by the expiration of the Biosafety Permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry and the termination of Bt eggplant field trials which are the subject of the permits. The decision dated December 8, 2015 of the Court, which affirmed with modification the decision dated May 17, 2013 and the resolution dated September 20, 2013 of the Court of Appeals is hereby set aside,” the SC ruling said.
According to the justices, the SC is not empowered to decide moot questions or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before the Court.
“These cases, which stemmed from respondents' petition for writ of kalikasan, were mooted by the expiration of the biosafety permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry and the termination of the Bt eggplant field trials subject of the permits. These effectively negated the need for the reliefs sought by respondents as there was no longer any field test to stop,” said the court.
The "public interest exception" to mootness also does not apply in the case, SC said, “because it is clear that no benefit would be derived by the public in assessing the merits of field trials whose parameters are not only unique to the specific type of Bt eggplant tested, but are now, in fact, rendered obsolete by the supervening change in the regulatory framework applied to the field testing of GMOs.”
The Department of Agriculture's assailed order, DAO 08-2002, was already superseded by a joint department circular issued in 2016 by five departments, the court noted: the Departments of Science and Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, Interior and Local Government, and the DA itself. The 2016 interagency order lays down a different framework and guidelines, from the DA's former order.
Still, the court pointed out that its decision does not mean the movants can proceed to commercial propagation of Bt eggplant. It noted that there are three stages before GMOs may become commercially available under DAO 08-2002 and each stage is distinct, such that subsequent stages can only proceed if the prior stage or stages is completed and clearance is given.
In its 2015 ruling, the SC also declared as null and void DA 08-2002, which set rules and regulations for the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechology.
The 2015 ruling agreed with the CA's earlier decision on the case, and noted that “scientists do not have a consensus on the safety of Bt eggplant and that these divergent views reflect the continuing international debate on GMO’s and the varying degrees of acceptance of GM technology by States, especially in the developed countries.”
The SC said the DA-DOST regulations did not provide enough safety guarantee for the environment and the health of people.
DA 08-2002, the SC said in its old ruling, also failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety under Executive Order 514 which established the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).