What a malodorous argument this incident has degenerated into—whether the tens of thousands of gallons of liquid waste dumped into Philippine waters by US Navy contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia of Malaysia (through its local subsidiary Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc.) is toxic or not.
Retired Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga, CEO of Glenn Defense Philippines, has not disputed the report that his company unloaded some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge (oil-stained) water into Subic Bay, only that these effluents were “untreated”.
“What we get from the US Navy are already pretreated wastewater,” he said. “These are even cleaner than the ones coming out of our respective homes.” His assertion was supported by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Ecology Center, which said that the waste could not be classified as “hazardous wastes” because they did not fall under the technical definition of the term. Rather, as Environmental Management Bureau Director for Central Luzon Lormelyn Claudio explained per information from SBMA-EC, “It is septage, not hazardous waste. It’s domestic waste.”
In other words—feces.
So a huge amount of fecal matter was dumped into Philippine waters but, instead of focusing on the validity of the act itself and its implications—Why in our territory, of all places? What made this company think it could do this to the Philippines? Are our laws perceived as too toothless, and their enforcement too lax, that foreign entities and their Filipino employees have acquired the temerity and the clout to simply disregard them?—the back-and-forth so far has largely turned on whether the sewage and detritus hauled by the ship Glenn Guardian from the kitchens and toilets of the US Navy submarine tender USS Emory Land are “hazardous” enough or not.
Which is like having a stranger just dump rubbish in your backyard one day, and when you raise a hue and cry, hear him claim in his defense that, anyway, the debris is harmless—never mind the eyesore, the stink, the despoliation of the grounds and the surrounding environment.
The waste dumped by Glenn Defense in Subic Bay may not meet the laboratory standard of “hazardous waste,” but former Environment Undersecretary Gregorio Magdaraog, president of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation, says that “fecal waste in water pollutes the environment with pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause disease to humans and other living creatures. Serious diseases can be caused [by this] … It is therefore hazardous to one’s health and the environment. To say otherwise is irresponsible.”
Also, another body, the Subic Water and Sewerage Co., conducted tests on water samples from Glenn Guardian and another support ship, and the results, it said, showed that the vessels carried “sewage waste with high levels of toxicity” that were “beyond the permissible limits” and exceeded Philippine standards—findings, said SBMA chairman Roberto Garcia, that only “confirmed that [Glenn Defense] did not treat the waste, which it should have.”
In this, Mayuga, who has insisted from the start that the waste had undergone treatment, has a lot of explaining to do. “The US Navy and even commercial vessels have water treatment facilities aboard their ships,” he said. “It’s a practice in the US Navy that you don’t give away untreated wastewater.”
That assertion, however, has been contradicted by the US Navy itself. Capt. Glenn Pendrick, commanding officer of USS Emory Land, admitted to Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello and Garcia that the ship “has no waste treatment facility, [which is why] we hire third party contractors.”
There—loud and clear. The waste was not pretreated, which means Glenn Defense has mucked up Subic Bay with raw sewage whose perilous effects on the aquatic ecosystem and the human communities that depend on the waters might not be seen and addressed until many years later, when the damage has become thorough.
In a further outrage, Mayuga’s company even invoked the Visiting Forces Agreement. If the VFA manages to get Glenn Defense off the hook, then it’s high time for the Philippines to get out of this patently onerous agreement. In the meantime, the government must do one thing soonest: Throw the book—and the kitchen sink and the toilet bowl—at Glenn Defense.