Manila, Philippines—Environmental justice and public health groups tell President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to not forget the illegal Canadian waste issue as he leaves for a state visit in Canada this week.
Mr. Aquino will be in Canada on May 7-9 for a state visit, and his itinerary includes meetings with top Canada officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston.
“Mr. President, we urge you to stand up to the Canadians and ask Prime Minister Harper to take back their illegal waste shipment,” said BAN Toxics executive director, Atty. Richard Gutierrez. “Do this not simply because it is the right and legal thing to do, but do so to defend the dignity of the Filipinos.”
In 2013, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized 50 forty-footer container vans containing various waste materials and hazardous wastes imported from Canada, which were misdeclared by the Canadian exporter as ‘assorted scrap plastic materials for recycling’.
Citing a change.org petition, Gutierrez urged President Aquino to ‘grab this chance and show the world that the Philippines is not a dumping site’. The petition has already garnered more than 25,000 signatures, with a considerable portion of signatures coming from Canada, and is continually growing.
The groups fear that the decision of the interagency committee to dispose of the Canadian wastes here will set a precedent and give way to more garbage being dumped here by richer countries like Canada. They see this as a result of ‘indirect pressure from the Canadian government’ by doling out economic packages in exchange of brushing the Canadian waste issue under the rug.
“President Aquino should not sweep the issue of Canada’s waste under the rug during his visit to Canada on May 7 for the sake of not hurting diplomatic relations. There is nothing diplomatic in dumping waste to another nation and still expect a friendly stance from them,” explained Greenpeace Philippines toxics campaigner Abigail Aguilar. “The issue is of equal importance as labor, infrastructure and development assistance. The Filipino people– whom PNoy refers to as his bosses– are the ones most disadvantaged by this irresponsible waste dumping by Canada and by both governments’ inaction over the issue.”
The interagency committee in charge of the Canadian waste is composed of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Bureau of Customs (BOC), and the Department of Health (DOH).
The Canadian government continues to dodge the issue by saying this is a private matter between the Canadian exporter, Chronic Inc., and its Filipino counterpart, Chronic Plastics. However, various sectors have pointed out that the illegal shipment is a violation of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, an international treaty that regulates toxic waste and other wastes to which both Canada and the Philippines are parties to.
As per the Basel Convention, the illegal shipment should have been re-exported to Canada.. The Convention requires the exporting country, in this case Canada, to take back the illegally seized shipment and to pay the costs for the return.
Apart from the Basel Convention, the importation violates a number of local laws such as the DENR Administrative Order 28 (Interim Guidelines for the Importation of Recyclable Materials Containing Hazardous Substances) and Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
“By allowing Canada to dispose of its illegal wastes in the country, the President will in effect, abet and aid in the violation of international law. That is not the “matuwid na daan” we expect from President Pnoy, nor what the Filipinos put him in office for,” Gutierrez lamented.
The shipment has been festering in the Philippine ports for more than 700 days and, according to the groups’ calculations, the government is spending at least P144,000 a day for the loss of income for storage space and the additional expenses for demurrage, which, to date, costs around Php 90 million.
Last year, a petition was signed by international organizations to express their concern over the illegal waste shipment and urged Canada to take back its waste. Representatives from NGOs in several countries, including Australia, China, Germany, India, Russia, and the US, signed the letter.
“To allow our country to be treated as a dumping ground of Canada in the name of ‘preserving diplomatic relations’ indicates how little – if at all – this government appreciates our sovereignty as a nation,” ended Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives’ Paeng Lopez.