The head of the Philippine office of a US Navy contractor on Monday disputed claims by government agencies that it dumped into Subic Bay toxic wastes from American ships that recently took part in joint military exercises in the country.
Five days after the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported the environment issue, retired Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga, CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Philippines Inc., called reports about the company dumping hazardous wastes into the bay “inaccurate or false.”
Mayuga said the local office of a Singapore-based multinational company operating in 27 countries handled domestic wastes from the toilets and kitchens of US Navy ships, but, according to him, these were safe for disposal.
“What we get from the US Navy are already pretreated wastewater. These are even cleaner than the ones coming out of our respective homes. I’m sorry to say that,” Mayuga told reporters Monday at a press briefing in Makati City.
Roberto Garcia, chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), earlier told reporters that test results showed that Glenn Defense vessels were carrying “sewage waste with high levels of toxicity.”
Garcia said the results “confirmed that [Glenn Defense] did not treat the waste, which it should have.”
Hernan Habacon, spokesperson of Subic Water and Sewerage Co. that tested water samples from a Glenn Defense vessel, said the results showed that these were “beyond the permissible limits.”
Results of the tests obtained by the Inquirer showed that samples of effluents taken from vessels of the US Navy contractor exceeded Philippine standards, but these were not tested for heavy metals because the firm that conducted the tests, Subic Water, was not equipped to do so.
Even so, the SBMA Ecology Center said wastes collected from American ships and dumped into Philippine waters last month could not be classified as “hazardous wastes.”
Asked to confirm reports that the center had told the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) that the wastes dumped by Glenn Defense’s vessels could not be considered hazardous, Angel Bagaloyos, acting head of the center, said in a text message: “Technically, yes.”
Asked to elaborate, Bagaloyos said: “By law, Republic Act No. 6969, sewage is exempted. The law on hazard waste management identifies hazard waste.”
RA 6969 (Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990) defines hazardous wastes as “substances that are without any safe commercial, industrial, agricultural or economic usage and are shipped, transported or brought from the country of origin for dumping or disposal into or in transit through any part of the territory of the Philippines.”
“Hazardous wastes shall also refer to by-products, side-products, process residues, spent reaction media, contaminated plant or equipment or other substances from manufacturing operations, and as consumer discards of manufactured products,” it says.
Citing information shared by the SBMA at a technical conference in Pampanga on Monday where things were supposedly clarified, EMB Director for Central Luzon Lormelyn Claudio said: “It is septage, not hazardous waste. It’s domestic waste.”
Asked by the Inquirer to explain that in layman’s term, she said: “Feces.”
Whether the effluents were at hazardous levels is still subject to laboratory tests, she said.
Where exactly the wastes were dumped will be established by the SBMA, she said.
37 km from bay
The SBMA, in a spot inspection report on Oct. 15, said it was told by the captain of a Glenn Defense vessel, the MT Glenn Guardian, that the wastes would be dumped at least 37 kilometers from Subic Bay last month.
The SBMA team found some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge water (a combination of water, oil and grease) during an inspection of the vessel. These were hauled from the US Navy ship Emory Land.
Mayuga said he would never let dumping of toxic waste into Subic Bay happen. “I’m also a Filipino,” he said.
US Navy responsibility
Mayuga said it was the responsibility of the US Navy to ensure that the wastewater had undergone treatment.
“The US Navy and even commercial vessels have water treatment facilities aboard their ships,” said Mayuga, who in 2005 led a military inquiry into the involvement of at least four generals tagged in the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal during the Arroyo administration.
Asked if the US Navy contractor had a way of knowing whether the water passed to its tankers was treated, Mayuga said: “They have to make sure that the water had been pretreated.”
“Our clients must do the testing themselves. It’s a practice in the US Navy that you don’t give away untreated wastewater,” Mayuga added.
He refused to answer the question on who should be blamed if the water dumped into the sea was toxic. “There are procedures to know who dumped the wastewater. We have the technology now to determine who the source was,” he said.
Glenn Defense also serviced the 103 ships that made calls at the Subic Bay Freeport from Oct. 3 to Dec. 22, 2009, Jan. 5 to Oct. 12, 2010, Aug. 21 to Nov. 10, 2011, and Jan. 2 to Oct. 17, 2012, records released by the SBMA showed.
Mayuga said he was open to any investigation. “As long as it (claim) is valid, we welcome this. That’s the only way to move forward.”
Pleading to the media to honor only the sources that are willing to be named, he said “all this [controversy] started from one inaccurate report that took on a life of its own.”
Mayuga said the report had originated from anonymous calls the SBMA had received.
The US Navy and the SBMA have launched an investigation of the allegations of hazardous-waste dumping by Glenn Defense.
Pending the results of the investigation, the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce also announced it had suspended the membership of the contractor, a registered locator at the Subic Bay Freeport.
An internal investigation on Glenn Defense’s part, however, was no longer necessary, Mayuga said.
“After every ship visit, we do a hotwash. It’s a critical analysis we do on how we had performed, both the good and the bad (aspects),” he said. “And we have done nothing wrong.”
Mayuga said he found it ironic that his company was at the center of an environmental controversy when he and his family have been concerned about the environment.
“I have a daughter who owns two organic stores. She’s a vegetarian. Our grandchildren prefer organic materials at home. How could I violate environmental laws and still have the gall to face them?” he said.
“We are a responsible company and we will do everything without compromise to observe established standards of releasing pretreated waste to the ocean at the internationally prescribed distances,” he said.
Mayuga said he was still waiting for the SBMA Ecology Center to call him for a meeting on the matter.
Contrary to reports that Glenn Defense was hiding under the skirt of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Mayuga said the company was not covered by the bilateral agreement “nor do we claim to be.”
“We service only US Navy ships but we are not in any way included in VFA arrangements,” he said.
Bagaloyos did not reply to the Inquirer’s query if the SBMA Ecology Center had examined the entire composition of the wastewater samples taken from the Glenn Defense vessels.
While the EMB was holding the technical conference, the SBMA board held an emergency meeting at Gateway Mall in Quezon City on the findings of the SBMA Ecology Center regarding the issue of waste dumping into Subic Bay.
Garcia did not respond to the Inquirer’s calls and text messages on the results of the board meeting.
‘Beyond permissible limits’
Habacon, spokesperson for Subic Water, said in a statement: “The SBMA Ecology Center sent us a sample for [laboratory] testing, allegedly from the said vessel, [MT] Glenn Guardian. We tested it for domestic strength only, and the results showed that it was beyond the permissible limits. The sample is of industrial strength.”
Subic Water treats only domestic wastewater and it has no capability to test the presence of heavy metals, Habacon said.
“The result we sent to SBMA Ecology Center, therefore, is not conclusive whether the sample is toxic or not. But as per our standards, the sample was not fit for release in the environment as the organic content was beyond the permissible limits,” he said.
A source familiar with the investigation of the SBMA Ecology Center told the Inquirer: “The mere fact that the wastewater was industrial grade means it is already hazardous to the environment, and violates DENR Administrative Order No. 35, which contains the standard for the discharging of treated wastewater.”
The source, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said the water samples also contained oil and grease, “which can be classified as hazardous.”
Sought for comment on the SBMA Ecology Center’s findings, former Environment Undersecretary Gregorio Magdaraog, president of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation said:
“Fecal waste in water pollutes the environment with pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause disease to humans and other living creatures. Serious diseases can be caused [by this].”
“It is therefore hazardous to one’s health and the environment. To say otherwise is irresponsible,” he said.
EMB’s Claudio said a maritime pollution law required that effluents be treated when these are discharged 5.5 kilometers (3 nautical miles) from the coast.
Asked if the contractor applied for a permit to dump or collect waste from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Lt. Cmdr. Roben de Guzman said: “As far as I know it should [get permits from] other agencies, not us.”
De Guzman, station commander of Subic and head of the PCG’s Port State Control Center Manila, said MT Glenn Guardian and MT Glenn Enterprise were sighted in Manila two weeks ago.