The United States Navy has opened an investigation into allegations that its contractor for cleaning its ships docked here has been dumping hazardous waste on Subic Bay.
In an e-mailed statement on Saturday, Cynthia Cook, deputy press attaché of the US Embassy in Manila, said the US Navy had “initiated its own inquiry into allegations of hazardous-waste dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines,” the local operator of the Malaysian-owned Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
Cook said the embassy was aware of the investigation being conducted by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), and that it would “take appropriate action depending on the outcome of those processes.”
The SBMA board of directors is meeting on Monday to discuss the results of the initial investigation of the reported dumping of hazardous waste by Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said.
In a letter to the SBMA earlier, lawyers for Glenn Defense claimed that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM) was the only agency authorized to handle the complaints about hazardous-waste dumping in Subic Bay.
Not covered by VFA
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, however, that Glenn Defense, being merely a US Navy contractor, is not covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States and therefore cannot invoke the accord to avoid investigation.
Agreeing with the DFA, Malacañang said on Saturday that Glenn Defense could not seek protection behind the DFA.
“The VFA applies only to US personnel, but since the alleged dumping was not done by US personnel but by other nationalities, then the VFA does not apply,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in an interview.
Ratified in 1999, the VFA provides the framework for regulating the presence of US military forces and equipment in the Philippines during joint military exercises and port calls of US warships.
Lacierda said the Aquino administration would not bar the SBMA investigation of Glenn Defense.
He said the administration also would not object to a Senate investigation that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago had proposed.
Santiago said on Friday that she would file a resolution on Monday for a Senate investigation into the alleged dumping of hazardous waste in Subic.
She said the dumping of hazardous waste in Philippine waters by a private logistics handler of the US Navy could be a breach of the VFA.
Suspended from chamber
Also on Saturday, the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC) announced it had suspended the membership of Glenn Defense, a registered locator at Subic Bay Freeport.
Danny Piano, SBFCC president, said the group had been aware about the dumping in Subic waters since October.
Piano said the chamber’s environmental committee had been on the lookout for potential environmental problems around the free port.
Piano recounted: “At around 8 a.m. on Oct. 15, members of the committee spotted a marine [vessel] collecting liquid waste from a US Navy ship at Alava Pier. They became curious [as to] why a [ship], and not a [sewage] truck, would be performing waste collection [for] a naval ship already berthed at a pier.
“Sensing potential hazard, the members reported the situation to the SBMA ecology department for a spot check and to make sure that proper procedures were followed in dumping the waste.”
The vessel, the MT Glenn Guardian, owned by Glenn Defense, had been carrying around 189,500 liters (50,000 gallons) of domestic waste and around 758 liters (200 gallons) of bilge water (a combination of water, oil and grease), which were untreated according to laboratory tests, Piano said.
He said the Philippine Coast Guard had informed the chamber that the vessel had not applied for a permit to dump domestic waste in Subic Bay.
As a result, Piano said, the chamber suspended Glenn Defense on Oct. 25.
“Further decision, whether to lift the suspension or terminate its membership, will be based on the result of the investigation,” he said.
The Department of National Defense said the controversy would not affect the regular port visits of US Navy vessels to the Philippines.
Santiago said the “overarching principle in the VFA” was that “all activities of the United States armed forces in the Philippines, and the entry and exit of its aircraft, vessels and vehicles into and from Philippine territory” are “subject to prior approval of the Philippine government.”
But Glenn Defense has not secured a permit from the Philippine government to provide husbanding services to US Navy ships at Subic and to dump any kind of waste on Philippine waters.
Santiago said Executive Order No. 199, which created the VFACOM gave the commission no authority to determine liability on the part of any party in connection with the agreement.
“It should be noted also that under [EO 199], the commission is only a monitoring body mandated to submit regular reports to the President,” Santiago said. “It does not exercise quasi-judicial powers,” she added.
That means the VFACOM cannot hear, much less decide, the hazardous waste dumping allegations against Glenn Defense.
But the Senate, which ratified the VFA, can look into breaches of the agreement.
There is also the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA (Lovfa), although one of the officials of this congressional body, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, is not keen on looking this early into the controversy involving Glenn Defense.
Biazon said, however, that the Senate could conduct its own inquiry.
“The Senate can do what it has to do,” Biazon said in a phone interview with the Inquirer on Saturday.
“But being the cochair of the Lovfa, I believe it is not yet time for us to look into the matter through an inquiry.”
Biazon said a Lovfa inquiry might be premature because the executive department and other agencies concerned were not yet finished with their investigation.
But Biazon agreed that Glenn Defense is not covered by the VFA.
“They are not covered simply because they are a civilian contractor and their activities have nothing to do with joint exercises,” Biazon said.
The left-leaning group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Saturday urged a speedy investigation into the alleged dumping of hazardous waste on Subic Bay.
“The US government is using private contractors so that it will not have any direct liability should there be problems with host countries. However, these private contractors arrogantly think that they are also insulated from any liability because they believe they are covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes Jr. said.
“In the Subic waste dumping incident, we believe both the US government and its private contractor are liable,” Reyes said.
Fire those officials
Reyes also criticized VFACOM officials who reportedly said that a private contractor had no liability under the VFA. He was referring to an Inquirer report that commission officials blocked an Environmental Management Bureau investigation into the waste dumping by Glenn Defense.
“They should be fired,” Reyes said. “They are totally ignorant of the law and cannot be relied upon to defend Philippine sovereignty.”
Bayan also urged a stop to frequent port calls by US warships as well as joint military exercises with the United States.
Reyes said that even with the VFA, the Philippine government had no way of determining if US ships that enter the country’s territory were carrying hazardous waste.
“The Philippine government is barred from inspecting US ships,” Reyes said.
Bayan urged the Aquino administration to “grow a spine and stand up for national interest.” With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Norman Bordadora, Christian V. Esguerra and Jerome Aning
First posted 7:34 pm | Saturday, November 10th, 2012