FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—The United States is guided by stricter guidelines on environmental protection compared to other countries and has not approved the alleged dumping of untreated waste by a US Navy contractor, American Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said here recently.
“We do not condone economic or environmental degradation. That was done by a contractor. The United States government has strict rules on that (environmental protection), stricter than most countries in the world. We know that the Philippine government is conducting its own investigation,” Thomas told reporters at the Philippine Military Academy here on Dec. 18.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia Philippines Inc. (GDMA), which was commissioned to undertake husbanding chores for US Navy vessels docked in the Philippines, was accused of violating Philippine regulations on ocean dumping in October.
Husbanding refers to housekeeping tasks, which US Navy vessels could not address on foreign soil, including waste disposal.
Glenn Defense has disputed these charges, saying it followed protocol when it dumped on waters outside the Philippine territory the sewage it collected from USS Emory Land that was docked at Subic Bay in October.
The Senate conducted an inquiry into the controversy but has yet to release its findings.
A House congressional investigation into the controversy could begin in January, said Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, who visited Subic Bay Freeport and inspected a US Navy vessel in November following reports about the alleged dumping.
In an e-mailed statement to the Inquirer early this month, the US Navy said it studied the findings of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce (SBFCC), which concluded that Glenn Defense failed to acquire clearances from Philippine authorities when it dumped US Navy sewage on waters not designated for dumping by the Philippine Coast Guard.
The SBFCC report said while it “considers anything that is harmful to health and beyond permissible limits as toxic,” the country’s pollution standards “clearly indicate that the effluents from USS Emory Land were conventional pollutants—and technically, were not toxic and deleterious substances.”
However, the report said the waste “was dumped inside the Philippine exclusive economic zone, which is still covered by the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 [that] prohibits discharging of materials, which could cause water pollution, directly into water bodies.”
In the statement, Commander Ron Steiner of the public affairs office of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said: “The contracting officer will consider appropriate actions under the US Navy’s contract with GDMA following receipt of finalized investigations by agencies of the Philippine government.”
Steiner said the US Navy’s contracting officer has reviewed the Dec. 2 report of the SBFCC.
The SBFCC earlier investigated Glenn Defense’s waste dumping to find out if it would suspend the company’s membership from the chamber.
Steiner said US Navy contractors are bound by Philippine laws. “As always, we hold our contractors accountable for their actions and expect the laws and regulations of host nations to be observed, especially as they pertain to the protection of the environment,” he said.
The Dec. 2 chamber report offered several reforms in regulating ocean dumping.
“Vessels that enter Philippine territorial waters are subject to Philippine laws [so]… the untreated wastes of such vessels should no longer be allowed to be dumped in Philippine waters but should be hauled by land and treated prior to disposal,” the report said.
It said Philippine ports should be required to establish waste reception facilities to accommodate visiting vessels.
It said husbanding companies should be required to obtain environmental compliance certificates, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issues to developers and institutions that pledge to enforce an environmental management plan to mitigate the impact of their activities on host communities.
It said all vessels must be equipped with a tracking system to enable agencies to monitor their activities out in the sea. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon, and Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon