Who’s liable

The public smelled a rat then, and true enough, a Senate committee report now confirms it: The tens of thousands of gallons of untreated 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.) in October 2012 was no accident or honest mistake. It was a clear violation of the Philippines’ environmental and marine protection laws, and—more appalling—a result of the relevant government agencies’ failure to do their job in enforcing the law and making the US Navy contractor toe the line.

“The case at hand is a classic illustration of how legislation remains good on paper, but are unable to achieve the policy goals defined in these laws,” said the Feb. 5 report issued by the Senate committees on foreign relations and on environment and natural resources.

The case involved Glenn Defense’s unloading of some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge (oil-stained) water into Subic Bay. The sewage had been collected from the US Navy ship USS Emory Land, but the company’s defense at the time was the preposterous claim that “what we get from the US Navy is already pretreated wastewater… [This is] even cleaner than the ones coming out of our respective homes”—or so said Glenn Defense Philippines CEO Mateo Mayuga, a retired vice admiral.

“The US Navy and even commercial vessels have water treatment facilities aboard their ships,” Mayuga added. “It’s a practice in the US Navy that you don’t give away untreated wastewater.”

But that claim was quickly debunked by the US Navy itself, which admitted through Capt. Glenn Pendrick, commanding officer of USS Emory Land, that the ship “has no waste treatment facility, [which is why] we hire third-party contractors.”

Even so, the waste was not “hazardous,” protested the company. Lormelyn Claudio, Environmental Management Bureau director for Central Luzon, concurred on the grounds that the detritus didn’t meet the technical definition of the term: “It is septage, not hazardous waste. It’s domestic waste.” A less malodorous word, of course, for plain feces.

That defense also crumbled in the light of tests conducted by the Subic Water and Sewerage Co. on water samples from Glenn Guardian and another support ship, the results of which showed that the vessels carried “sewage waste with high levels of toxicity” that were “beyond the permissible limits” and exceeded Philippine standards. The findings, said Roberto Garcia, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chair, only “confirmed that [Glenn Defense] did not treat the waste, which it should have.”

How could Glenn Defense have disregarded those limits and flouted our environmental laws? The Senate report said the company even failed “to comply with the government’s permitting process” and to acquire “the necessary accreditation as a hazardous waste collector and transporter.”

Violation after violation—and who is ultimately liable for this virtual assault on the country’s marine environment? Sadly, over and above the liability of the reckless US Navy contractor, greater blame appears to lie in the hands of government agencies whose incompetence and inaction all but allowed the incident to happen.

There was “no formal coordinating mechanism” between and among the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and SBMA “with respect to the enforcement of marine protection laws, particularly in areas under the administrative supervision of SBMA,” lamented the Senate report. “It is precisely in the absence of such coordinating mechanism that Glenn Defense was able to impose its own interpretation of our laws, rules and regulations, with neither the SBMA, DENR nor PCG intervening in ways that public interest will be upheld.”

The DENR is guilty of a “lack of effective environmental leadership,” the report said.

Which should explain not only how Subic Bay—and who knows which other parts of Philippine waters—has become a dumping ground for other countries’ refuse, but also how the US Navy, so soon after the incident, could again run afoul of Philippine environmental laws by barreling through the protected, ecologically fragile Tubbataha Reef and ending up with one of its ships run aground there.

If the earlier incident is any indication, then the stink of this latest debacle will probably reach all the way to the cushy offices of the country’s impotent environmental overlords—as usual. Time to crack the whip on them.

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Tags: Environmental issues , Glenn Defense Marine Asia of Malaysia , pollution , toxic waste , US Navy

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