Aquino told: Tell Canada to take back toxic trash
MANILA, Philippines–Labor groups on Monday joined environmental organizations in asking President Aquino to tell the Canadian government to take back illegal trash shipped to Manila two years ago.
Aquino leaves for a state visit to Canada on Wednesday. He will take a side trip to the United States on May 7 to 9.
Ban Toxics, Greenpeace, EcoWaste Coalition and Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives protested in front of Malacañang in Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, and the Canadian Embassy in Makati City to drum up interest in the issue in time for Aquino’s visit to Canada.
They urged the President to take up with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper the return of containers full of trash that were illegally shipped to Manila two years ago.
“This is a rare opportunity for President Aquino to assert his authority as head of state and demand that Prime Minister Harper take back Canada’s waste,” said Angelica Carballo-Pago, spokesperson for Ban Toxics.
PH demand dropped
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told the Inquirer last week that the government has dropped its demand that Canada take back “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” the 50 containers loaded with what authorities said were household waste and scrap plastic.
Four labor groups joined their voices to the calls from environmental and public health advocacy groups in asking the President to include the trash issue on his Canadian visit agenda.
The trash has been rotting at the Manila and Subic ports since June 2013 pending a decision in a case brought against the local counterpart of the Ontario-based exporter Chronic Inc. and negotiations between the Philippines and Canada.
The groups Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino and Partido ng Manggagawa said the government’s decision to drop its demand for the return of the trash to Canada was tantamount to “an open invitation to garbage smugglers.”
Take trash back
Since last year, EcoWaste Coalition, Ban Toxics, Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy, and Ang NARS party list have been holding rallies, asking the Canadian government to take back the trash.
EcoWaste coordinator Aileen Lucero said the garbage dumping was a “blatant case of environmental injustice” in light of an international treaty signed by the Philippines and Canada that seek to prevent developed nations from dumping trash in developing nations.
“This is one agreement that should be on Aquino’s priority list, a tangible indicator by which the success of his trip will be judged,” Lucero said.
In an earlier interview, Paje said the government was waiting for clearance from the Manila Regional Trial Court, after government prosecutors in February asked that the trash be disposed of in local landfills while the case continued.
Paje said the Bureau of Customs would dispose of the trash, and that the cost would be charged to the importer, Chronic Plastics.
He said the Canadian government would not shoulder the cost, nor would the exporter, adding that the government could go after the importer only.
The Canadian Embassy has refused to take back the garbage, saying the issue is a “private commercial matter” between a Canadian exporter and its Philippine importer-partner.
“The issue is as friendly countries, would you insist on hurting diplomatic relations if there is another way?” Paje said.
“They promised they would prevent a repeat. Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter,” he added.
On fears that the government’s handling of the issue could serve as a precedent, Paje said he believed the court case brought against the importer would discourage trash shipments.
“Isn’t that a major deterrent? How can we be a dumping ground when we’re vigilant. They were caught. Who else will have the courage to import if they will be caught?” he said.–With a report from Nathaniel R. Melican
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