No one as yet knows the true scale of the Subic Bay problem, but this much is clear: In at least one instance, a “support vessel” belonging to a Malaysian-owned contractor of the US Navy dumped tens of thousands of gallons of liquid waste into Philippine waters—and those wastes were found to be untreated and therefore toxic.
This dumping is outrageous, grossly irresponsible conduct. That the contractor’s response has been to invoke the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement, essentially in an attempt to evade accountability for its behavior, compounds the gross irresponsibility of the act. That the dumping was done by a Philippine subsidiary, and through Filipino employees, adds to the outrage.
The initial story by the Inquirer’s Robert Gonzaga established two facts. First, that the Glenn Guardian, a tanker owned by Glenn Defense Marine Asia of Malaysia and operated by Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc., dumped some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge (oil-stained) water. “But SBMA sources said Edilberto Acedilla, captain of Glenn Guardian, told the [inspection] team that the liquid wastes had been dumped at least 37 kilometers (20 nautical miles) from Subic Bay”—an assertion that seeks to refute the claim that it had dumped the wastes into Subic Bay itself, but an admission in itself that the dumping occurred in Philippine waters. Second, tests conducted on water samples taken from the ship and another Glenn support vessel found that the contractor had not treated the waste before dumping.
Whether the dumping is standard company practice is as yet known only to the contractor; already, there are reports that it was involved in one other incident. Whether the controversy will overtake the contractor’s operations in the Philippines, nobody knows; but if it is proven that the contractor did in fact dispose of hazardous waste into Philippine seas, we trust that severe sanctions will be imposed.
We therefore support the growing clamor for a rigorous investigation, at both the level of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and of the Senate, into the allegation of toxic waste dumping. While we note that the US Navy has also commenced its own inquiry into the case, we reiterate the simple truth that the US government bears some responsibility for the actions of its third-party contractors. We have not forgotten that the toxic wastes the US Air Force left behind in Clark Air Base continue to elude closure and resolution.
We strongly take issue with the contractor’s legal defense: that, as its lawyers write in a letter to the SBMA, “its support vessels are not commercial vessels that are subject to the regulation of your office. Rather, the support vessels solely operate for the benefit of the US armed forces under the stated provisions of the VFA.”
This is patent nonsense, and officials involved in the passage of the VFA, such as former senator Rodolfo Biazon, and experts on international law, such as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, all agree that Glenn Defense is not covered by the VFA’s terms. The spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs drew the only reasonable conclusion: “Since Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc. cannot be considered US personnel, clearly its acts as third-party contractors are not covered by the VFA.”
Part of the criticism against the VFA, which took effect in 1999, has always been that it was balanced in favor of visiting American forces; its terms, in other words, were disadvantageous to the Philippine hosts. Apparently, the contractor’s Philippine subsidiary and its lawyers think the US advantage extends to non-American third-party contractors who do not even take part in the military exercises the VFA allows.
Above all, we condemn the involvement of Filipino personnel in the dumping of hazardous waste into Philippine waters. To be sure, their complicity reminds us of similar callous behavior by Philippine enterprises: factories throwing their wastes into already polluted rivers, small businesses using the estero as dumping ground. But if it is really too much to expect the Filipinos behind Glenn Defense to protest any attempt to pollute their own country’s environment, then the true scale of the problem is vaster that we can imagine.
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