‘War’ with Canada
If only it had shipped boxes of Tim Hortons’ donuts, or cases of maple syrup, or even just Justin Trudeau himself, Canada would not now be the object of the Filipino people’s ire.
In particular, the ire of President Duterte who, in a seemingly impetuous moment (he was, after all, speaking before an audience in Pampanga on the aftermath of the April 22 earthquake that left 18 people dead and 282 injured), began hurling invectives at Canada and threatening war against that country for shipping more than a hundred containers filled with trash.
His timing was curious, and even inappropriate. His purpose at the Pampanga event, it would seem, was to lend comfort to the survivors of the temblor which, even if it originated in Zambales, caused more deaths and damage to structures in Pampanga and even as far as Metro Manila.
But the headlines that evening and the next day focused not on our countryfolk’s suffering in the wake of the earthquake, but on our literally trash-talking President’s rants against Canada.
To be sure, the containerloads of hazardous materials—computer parts, hospital waste and even common household detritus like soiled diapers—are cause for offense. The subterfuge employed to slip past Customs’ scrutiny and the years of dilly-dallying add to the sore feelings all around.
It is the abrupt resurfacing of the issue, however, the newfound urgency, that seems suspect. After all, the first batches of Canadian trash arrived in mid-2013 or nearly six years ago, declared as recyclable plastic scrap materials and shipped by a private export company, Chronic Plastics, based in Ontario, Canada. In the next few months, 48 more container vans arrived in Manila, with the environment department ordering the Bureau of Customs to send the trash back after the consignee Live Green Enterprise failed to claim the shipment.
In the next few years, the government would file charges of smuggling against Chronic Plastics while the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of the Customs official who allowed the shipment to enter Philippine shores. Canadian Embassy officials, approached for help to ship back the hazardous materials to their country, said their hands are tied as there is no law penalizing the export of garbage. The seemingly last word on the issue came from Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, who said he would work to expedite laws punishing exporters of garbage, while a technical working group was convened to study ways of returning the containers to Canada.
Meanwhile, some of the trash have already been buried in a landfill in Tarlac, while the rest of the shipments sit still inside unopened containers now baking under our warm tropical sun.
So now, after years caught in the labyrinth of bureaucratic and diplomatic limbo, why is the Canadian garbage shipment suddenly on the front burners of state concerns? What triggered the President, already loose-lipped at the best of times, to threaten war against a country that had always been a good friend and helpful partner for the last decades, and where, according to a 2016 Canadian census, some 851,000 people of Filipino descent have chosen to live, making up the third largest subgroup of Filipinos overseas?
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, borrowing a term used previously and often by other officials like the presidential spokesperson, perhaps attempting to allay the fears of Canadian officials, downplayed the threat of war by saying that Mr. Duterte was just employing a “figure of speech.”
The next day, after raising a ruckus with his “figure of speech,” Mr. Duterte left for his fourth visit to China since he had taken office. Perhaps the timing is only incidental, but it should strike observers how the President seemed to be trying to deflect any criticism of his extraordinary friendship with Chinese officials by his rant against Canada. He wants to quell any notions of his being anybody’s toady by “showing” how willing he is to stand up to a foreign leader, especially in light of the midterm elections in two weeks.
Filipinos, however, will find it easy to see through the pantomime. They have to grit their teeth while a giant neighbor continues to police the country’s seas, despoil outlying islands, threaten hapless Filipino fishermen, harvest giant clams while destroying precious reefs in the world’s center of biodiversity—and, throughout, Malacañang’s irate gaze is fixed somewhere else.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.