May 29, 2019

With obvious pride, Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin announced on Twitter Monday night that containers carrying assorted toxic garbage from Canada that has fermented in the country for seven years will finally be shipped back on May 30.

(News reports said Locsin refers to an initial batch of around 70 of the more than 100 containers.)


And then a short addendum: “Anybody gets in the way one way or another, I will screw you dry.  Don’t provoke me.”

The last sentence may be a bit uncalled for and unnecessary but it clearly reflects Locsin’s and the government’s exasperation and exhaustion over the international drama with Canada that has so far stretched since 2013.

Culling from wire stories and online reports, the saga began midway during President Benigno Aquino’s term when the first batch of containers from Canada arrived in mid-2013 at the Manila International Container Port.

Declared as “recyclable plastic scrap,” the goods turned out to be domestic garbage, used adult diapers, plastic bags and bottles and newspapers—discovered only after a Bureau of Customs team was forced to open some containers for overstaying in the premises.

A smuggling complaint was filed against Chronic Plastics, Inc. (how apt!), the private company based in Ontario, Canada that shipped the containers to Manila. Local brokers, in turn, faced the same charge along with violation of the Toxic Substance and Hazardous Waste law.

Efforts and appeals made by the Philippine government to Canada for help to remove the containers from Manila and return them to Canada were all for naught.

Canada blames loopholes

At one point, the Canadian ambassador bluntly told the Department of Foreign Affairs that his government had “no domestic or international authority to compel” Chronic Plastics to take back the trash. The containers eventually languished in a landfill in Capas, Tarlac.

The unwanted shipment even soured Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appearance at the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation held in Manila.

Asked by media about the presence of 103 containers of Canada-sourced garbage in President Aquino’s province, the heartthrob prime minister disappointed fans with his lame wish for his government to have “more power to actually demand action from the companies responsible,” adding that “loopholes” were to blame for the shipment.

The Philippine government has mainly fallen silent after that, with protests coming mostly from cause-oriented and environmental groups demanding Canada to take back its trash.

To be fair, it was President Duterte’s very public tantrum last April that put the issue back in the limelight.

He threatened to “declare war” with Canada if it refused to accept the shipment and at one point said he would not hesitate to dump the containers’ content along the Canadian shoreline if need be.

The Canadian government probably thought Mr. Duterte was just being ornery and was set to sustain its cavalier stance if not for Secretary Locsin’s move to recall the Philippine ambassador and consuls to Canada. This after Canadian representatives in Manila failed to meet the May 15 deadline to take the trash out.

Locsin said it was only proper that Manila “maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is shipbound there.”

A bit more diplomatic to-and-fro and Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna finally announced that her government has awarded the contracts to bring home the containers as soon as possible to Bolloré Logistics Canada, a private company.

McKenna also vowed that the removal would be complete by end of June.

Wait, there’s more!

But as Filipinos started to rejoice, a succession of garbage importations from other countries was discovered on a near-daily basis.

First was a batch of seven containers from Australia detected at the Mindanao Container Terminal in Misamis Oriental. Then a shipment of more than 25,000 tons of garbage from Hong Kong in the same port, followed by more than 1,000 tons from South Korea.

Most of the shipments were misdeclared by local-based importers.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, at one point, how insulting it is for the Philippines to be considered as a “dump site” by its neighbors.

Given the dates when the garbage shipments were first reported, it seems the transfer of garbage from elsewhere to the Philippines is not a unique phenomenon.

But we also note that the shipments were imported by private contractors, misdeclared as less harmless materials and left to rot in Philippine ports.

In the case of trash from Canada, a ranking official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was later slapped with a three-month suspension without pay by the Office of the Ombudsman for “gross inexcusable negligence” when he issued a registry certificate to Chronic Plastics, allowing the company to abuse that document.

Is it possible that other officials in other ports of the country also issue papers that would allow private importers to bring in trash from abroad?

The scenario is both likely and terrifying as this would mean there are hundreds, if not thousands of abandoned containers of foreign trash in our shores waiting to be discovered.

Meanwhile, environmental groups in Southeast Asia refuse to ignore Manila’s trash experience and are asking their governments to be on the lookout for similar unwanted shipments.

The lack of data and a proper investigation cannot move us to conclude anything at this point but there’s another tweet, this time from Sen. Panfilo Lacson (@iampinglacson) who warned: “As long as fictitious consignees and unscrupulous brokers continue to work with corrupt customs officials, tons of garbage and shabu will enter our country’s ports.”

Let that sink in for now.


Get more stories like this by subscribing to our weekly newsletter here.

Read more:

Confirmed: Our plastic trash has already reached the deepest part of the sea

5 everyday trash items that’ll take lifetimes to decompose

Will Canada take back its trash this time?

Read more by Cathy Cañares Yamsuan:

Taxpayers deserve more than failed infrastructure projects

Parks, plazas and other public spaces are vanishing right before our eyes

Pisay: Why were sexual offenders allowed to graduate?

TAGS: canada Duterte President Rodrigo Duterte trash trash in manila trash in oceans