During the Meeting of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines,
6 December 2011, DOST Conference Room

Scientist members, representatives from SecMontejothe community, industry and consumer sectors and duly designated representatives of the Secretaries from the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry and Interior and Local Government,

I am pleased to welcome you all to the meeting of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP). This shall serve as the Committee’s first meeting since I assumed leadership of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in 2010. This meeting serves to convene the Committee, refresh our memory on the country’s biosafety regulatory structure and brief the members on the current undertakings of the NCBP. As Presidential appointees and designated representatives, we shall be taking our oath to symbolize the renewal of our commitment to promote the safe and responsible application of modern biotechnology while at the same time safeguarding the environment, and human and animal health.

The creation of the NCBP in early 1990's was instigated by the development of various techniques involving the molecular manipulation of the genetic material (DNA). The Philippines back then was one of the countries which recognized that modern biotechnology is a powerful tool that, if used responsibly, can contribute to food security, health and industry.While there is much public discussion on the benefits that can be derived from research on modern biotechnology, there is no doubt that a credible and functional regulatory framework lends assurance to the public that the activities are done within the boundaries that are scientifically sound, responsible and defensible.

Since the Committee was first convened it 1990, the experience gained in assessing the potential impacts of GM crops has allowed us to evolve, strengthen our existing biosafety regulatory framework and formally cover assessments of other GMOs.

Our present regulatory set-up has assigned specific tasks to four departments, namely, DA, DENR, DOH and DOST. As Chair of this Committee, I am delegated with the daunting yet pressing task of facilitating the harmonization of inter-agency and multi-sector efforts to review and continuously evolve responsive and responsible biosafety policies in the country. First among the Committee’s priorities shall be to carry out the necessary review of the country’s existing biosafety procedures.

It may be recalled that the first genetically modified crop was released in the US some 15 years ago, and in 2010,14.5 million farmers have planted GM crops in 148 thousand hectares in 29 countries. In the case of the Philippines, Bt corn, the first commercialized crop in the country, was released in 2002. Currently, the total land area planted to Bt corn stands at more than 500 hectares. Considering this experience and the large adoption of Bt crops, maybe it’s time for the Philippines to have a facilitative regulatory approach to assessing the safety of GMOs. It may be worth considering that for crops which have undergone extensive evaluation elsewhere, a more streamlined approach could be adopted, so that relevant data obtained elsewhere may be considered in the assessment process, and that additional data requirements will be limited to those that directly address highly plausible risk scenarios specific to the Philippine environment. Such an approach will afford an efficient and focused the regulatory process without sacrificing the rigor of our assessment nor the safety of the product. Such an approach will likewise save considerable time and financial and manpower resources both on the part of the government and the technology developers from private industry and public research institutions.

Secondly, I would also like to encourage the member Departments to come up with a unified stance on modern biotechnology. The clamor of environmentalists and many organizations against GMOs brought about by the ongoing trials on Bt eggplant and Golden Rice necessitates us technology regulators to formulate a unified stance on the matter.

Thirdly, this is also the time for us to tackle and clarify certain issues and concerns from other stakeholders. In our own capacities, we have addressed some of these issues, but they continue to resurface. These include, but are not limited to, i) lack of public awareness, ii) lack of transparency in the decision making process, iii) need to consider socio-economic issues in the decision making process, iv) banning the technology in some provinces, and v) the possibility of creating a separate and permanent body that will handle the regulations of all GMOs from contained to post commercialization.

Let this meeting be a venue for us to work harmoniously to continue implementing a functional and responsive biosafety regulatory framework. With your support and cooperation, I believe that we can succeed in our task of ensuring the safe and beneficial use of biotechnology for our people.