The honeymoon is over for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ( left) and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seen here at  the opening ceremony of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila in 2017.  (MARK CRISTINO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Philippines

Duterte lashes out over Canadian trash dumped and left to rot

By Ysh Cabana

“The President’s threats of going to war with Canada over garbage dumped in the Philippines, while obviously an exaggeration, is now getting tiresome […] While on the subject of foreign toxic wastes, shouldn’t the President also demand that the US clean up its toxic wastes in its former military bases in the Philippines?” said Reyes.

TORONTO — If Canada does not take out its waste exported by a private company to a port near Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to declare “war” and vows to ship the containers back himself.

“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada, maybe next week, that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail to Canada and I’ll pour the garbage there,” Duterte said during a press briefing Tuesday April 23, 2019.

“I cannot understand why they are making us a dumpsite,” he said. If Canada didn’t listen, Duterte said, “we’ll declare war against them.”

More than 100 containers were shipped to Manila by Chronic Inc., a Whitby, Ont.-based plastics exporter owned by Demetrios “Jim” Makris, in separate batches in 2013 and 2014, improperly labelled as plastics for recycling. Most of the shipment  reportedly consisted of municipal solid waste such as used adult diapers, newspapers, plastic bottles and bags. Customs inspectors who intercepted at the port declared the materials junk.

Officials check a shipping container holding garbage from Vancouver in Manila in this undated, handout photo. (Philippines Bureau of Customs/Canadian Press)

In 2016, a local court ordered that 50 containers of the wastes be returned to Canada, as required by Philippine law.

The judge stated: “Our country should not be made a trash bin by other country. This should not be made a precedent for other countries to follow. If our country allows [sic] the disposal of the wastes from other countries to be locally disposed, we will become the place of disposing other countries’ wastes and garbage.”

Canada has been trying for nearly six years to convince the Philippines to dispose of the garbage locally there even though a Filipino court ordered the trash returned to Canada in 2016.

The Philippine government has been forced to dispose of trash from at least 26 containers (out of the 103) in a landfill in Tarlac province north of Manila due to biohazard risks and financial costs. The Canadian waste shipment has been estimated to cost around ₱130,848.48 ($3,380.60 Cdn) in rental costs and demurrage every day it remains unclaimed.

As the waste rot in containers, outrage in the Philippines grew.

Under the banner EcoWaste Coalition, more than 100 community and environment groups in the Philippines have been pleading to take out Canada’s trash and buttressing the demand against foreign waste disposal in local facilities.

The groups have sent letters on January 30, February 11, and April 15 addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting the “expeditious return to Canada of thousands of tons of wastes” sitting in limbo in Philippine ports.

Aileen Lucero, coordinator for the EcoWaste Coalition, said that South Korea repatriated more than 50 containers of garbage after they were mistakenly shipped to the Philippines in 2018 and Canada’s refusal to do the same has not gone unnoticed.

“The stark contrast between South Korea’s actions and Canada’s indifference to its dumped waste has captured public attention and stoked anger at what is viewed as both disrespectful and illegal conduct by Canada,” she wrote in a letter.

More recently, British Columbia lawyer Anthony Ho of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation said the shipments violate multiple parts of the International Basel Convention, a 30-year-old treaty that prevents countries from shipping hazardous waste to the developing world without their consent.

Canada is one of two dozen countries that have refused to endorse a 1995 amendment to the convention that would ban all shipments of hazardous waste — with or without consent — including waste intended for recycling.

Only two more countries need to join for the amendment to come into force. Among the 24 countries which have yet to ratify the amendment are Canada, the Philippines and South Korea. Debate about the amendment is scheduled to be on the agenda as countries meet about the Basel Convention in Switzerland on April 29, 2019.

The Canadian Embassy in Manila issued a statement in response to Duterte’s speech: “In 2019, Canada and the Philippines are celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations. The relationship is built on strong people to people ties, our common interest in strengthening political, economic, and cultural relations, and in our mutual commitment to peace.”

However, leaders of both countries have been at odds in recent years.

During a visit in Manila in 2015, Trudeau acknowledged that the waste incident exposed a “problem” that “needs fixing” within Canada’s own legislation but Ottawa has yet to act. In 2017, the combative Philippine leader berated the Canadian prime minister for raising questions about human rights violations.

Last year, Duterte cancelled a helicopter deal and ordered to stop buying defence materials from the US and Canada because “there is always a condition attached.”

Environmental group Greenpeace reacts to the Philippines president`s “frustration” with Canadian trash. “The Canadian government must hold corporations accountable for their role in the plastic crisis and immediately act to ban the most problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics, instead of sanctioning dumping our garbage elsewhere,” wrote Sarah King, Head of Greenpeace Canada’s Oceans & Plastics campaign.

“The Philippines case is a stark reminder that there truly is no such thing as throwing something ‘away’. We live in one world and that world is rapidly overflowing with plastic trash,” she added.

“We will likely see governments get more frustrated and take stronger measures as countries struggling to cope with the plastic waste and pollution crisis continue to get dumped on by countries like Canada,” she further said.

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. during a meeting in Malacañang Palace on July 18, 2017. Simeon Celi Jr., Presidential Photo

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes commended Duterte’s “tough talk” but found it rather wanting.

“The President’s threats of going to war with Canada over garbage dumped in the Philippines, while obviously an exaggeration, is now getting tiresome […] While on the subject of foreign toxic wastes, shouldn’t the President also demand that the US clean up its toxic wastes in its former military bases in the Philippines?” said Reyes.

“This has been a long standing injustice and affront to the Filipino people. Again, the demand is for an independent and consistent foreign policy, not just tough talk meant to distract from other issues.”