Does Trudeau know?
From the EcoWaste Coalition: “(We) warmly welcome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Manila. We hope that (he) will do the correct and just thing by taking full responsibility for the illegally exported (Canadian) trash (to the Philippines). This is a most enduring gift that he could give the Filipino people.
“It is a new day in Canada with the election of Trudeau, a young, culturally sensitive, gender-fair and change-oriented leader. We hope it will be a new day, too, for Canada-Philippine relations with Canada taking back its garbage for environmentally sound disposal in Canada. The Philippines is not a global dumpsite, and PM Trudeau, we trust, recognizes and respects this. Thank you, Mr. Trudeau.”
The Inquirer’s editorial two days ago (“Trudeau in the crosshairs”) brought up the garbage issue once again while hailing Trudeau’s commitment to pursue more ambitious emission-reduction targets for Canada at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.
A timely reminder for the new PM because despite cries of “Return to sender,” “Nimby” (not in my backyard), “Take back your garbage” and protests by environmental groups against the 50 containers of trash that arrived here from Canada in June to August 2013, the foul, toxic and disease-causing cargo is still here.
Philippine authorities have simply allowed the foreign garbage to sit on our soil for so long while Canada, a supposedly friendly and wealthy nation, was playing deaf. This deafness is not new. Recall the massive devastation that a Canadian mining company wrought upon the island of Marinduque about two decades ago, the adverse effects of which the island’s residents suffer to this day.
Like a foul-smelling rot that continues to seep through the cracks until it is taken away, this garbage issue will fester if it is not addressed. During President Aquino’s state visit to Canada several months ago when Stephen Harper was still the prime minister, environmental groups raised the stinking issue but to no avail.
Zero-waste groups led by the EcoWaste Coalition have described the garbage dumping as “environmental injustice” and an “illegal transboundary movement of hazardous waste.” News reports in 2013 said that when the containers arrived in six batches at the Manila International Container Port, customs police discovered that the cargo did not contain homogeneous or recyclable plastic scrap materials as had been declared by the importer. Police found used “heterogeneous” (mixed and unsorted) plastic materials, including household garbage and even used adult diapers.
In February 2014, Greenpeace urged the Philippine Senate to immediately ratify the Basel Convention Ban Amendment that would ban all shipments of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries, even if these are for recycling purposes, and promote clean production, stop toxic technologies and prevent governments and companies from circumventing the recycling loophole in the Basel Convention.
At that time Canadian and Philippine zero-waste advocates condemned the dumping of hazardous waste disguised as recyclable plastic. They described the dumping as a violation of environmental laws including Republic Act No. 9003 (or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act), which prohibits the importation of toxic waste disguised as “recyclable” or “with recyclable content.”
Zero Waste Canada called it a disgrace, an embarrassing “bad behavior… towards the environment and the good people of the Philippines.”
Last year the Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed smuggling charges at the Department of Justice against the importer of the 50 containers and their customs brokers for violating Sections 3601 and 3602 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines; RA 6969 (or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990); and Article 172 in relation to Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.
The online petition submitted to the Canadian Embassy last year received an answer from Ambassador Neil Reeder: “We are responsible stewards of the environment in Canada and we expect our companies and the importing companies to be socially responsible. We will try to resolve this as best as we can because we have a very strong relationship [with the Philippines and] we don’t want that to be affected by issues like this.”
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said at that time that an interagency committee, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, had agreed to dispose of the trash in landfills here “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” with Canada. What a shame.
Well, the BOC attempted to just dispose of the shipment in Tarlac, the President Aquino’s home province, in order to decongest the ports but was found out. The EcoWaste coalition called the attempt “an open invitation to make the Philippines a dumping ground for the unwanted waste of other countries.”
On Sept. 15, 2014, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago filed Senate Resolution No. 919 for the chamber to “direct the proper committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on ways to decisively prevent illegal waste dumping from abroad, including the ratification of the ‘Basel Convention Ban Amendment’ and other legal measures to protect the country from becoming a global dump for hazardous wastes.”
The government can take the easy way to make the issue go away, dispose of the stinking, toxic cargo in landfills right here, or incinerate them and say, “End of story.” But this would make us the dumping capital of the world. It would be like saying, “Dump pa more.”
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