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VFA body ‘blocked’ probe of US Navy contractor

As early as 2011, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) had been looking into reports of toxic waste dumping by Glenn Defense Marine Asia, the Malaysia-based US Navy contractor, not just in Subic Bay but also in Manila Bay, the Inquirer has learned.

But the agency’s efforts have been stymied by the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM), according to Roberto Sheen, a former director of the EMB Central Luzon.

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Sheen said the EMB had been inquiring into the operations of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, which is engaged in the business of hauling out wastes accumulated by foreign vessels, including those from the US Navy.

In an Aug. 9, 2011, letter to Glenn Defense, Sheen told the company that an investigation conducted by his office had found that the company “has been engaging in hauling of hazardous waste coming from ships docking in the Port of Manila yet no records were found in this office relative to such activities being undertaken by your company.”

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Sheen said the EMB made an attempt to inspect the vessels of Glenn Defense but was barred from doing so by the VFACOM. The case remains unresolved, said Sheen, who was reassigned to the EMB office in Bicol on Aug. 3.

Interestingly, he said that US Navy officials at the US Embassy had told him that Glenn Defense was not exempt under the terms of their contract from complying with Philippine laws.

VFACOM executive director Edilberto Adan did not respond to the Inquirer’s inquiries.

SBMA probe to continue

In a news conference here on Friday, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair Roberto Garcia said the SBMA was “continuing the investigation [it launched] to find out where the waste actually went.”

“Nobody is exempted from environmental laws of the Philippines. Since we are responsible for this area, it is our responsibility to regulate all activities that might affect it,” he said.

He said the SBMA has been coordinating with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regarding Glenn Defense’s other contracts.

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According to Garcia, Glenn Defense is right now servicing the USS Emory Land, which is docked at the Alava Pier in front of the SBMA headquarters here.

He said the agency allowed the contractor to continue its work because the SBMA has not yet terminated its investigation of the toxic waste dumping at the bay.

 

Stopped by VFACOM

In a report dated March 27 that he sent to the EMB Manila office, Sheen said Glenn Defense’s lawyer Mark Abaya had “maintained that the advice and approval of the VFACOM  is necessary [before the barges of Glenn Defense could be inspected by the DENR].”

Sheen said the VFACOM, through lawyer Julius Magno, “then stated that by reason of the ongoing drafting of the guidelines for the VFA, it would not be appropriate to conduct any inspection or sampling to avoid preempting negotiations with the US government.”

Sheen said he met on Feb. 21 with officials of Naval Supply Systems Command of the US Embassy, which is responsible for brokering service deals with contractors like Glenn Defense. In that meeting, the US officials “stressed that the husbanding agent (Glenn Defense) contracted by them is not exempt under the contract from complying with local laws,” Sheen said in his report.

The US officials were “highly appreciative for being informed of the present matter and requested for the correspondences made with Glenn Defense to be used in their evaluation of the latter’s performance,” he said.

“As much as this regional office would like to continue in our efforts in determining whether Glenn Defense is complying with [the relevant] environmental laws, we are now facing a blank wall as the VFACOM already stated that inspection of the barge cannot be performed by this office at the moment,” he said in his report to the EMB Manila office.

The lawyers of Glenn Defense said in a Nov. 6 letter to the SBMA that the agency had no jurisdiction over their client, and that only the VFACOM could address the issue.

Bad attitude

Gregorio Magdaraog, president of the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber for Health and Environment Conservation, said Glenn Defense’s insistence that SBMA has no jurisdiction over them “is an irresponsible statement that reflects their total disregard of Philippine laws and authority and their wanton disrespect of our environment.”

“This very bad attitude should put the VFA under close scrutiny by Congress. SBMA should take a strong stand against visiting US forces if they will uphold this ridiculous claim of Glenn Defense,” he said.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has ordered an assessment of the toxicity levels and environment impact of hazardous waste dumped in waters off Subic last month to determine sanctions against the US Navy contractor.

The DENR will oversee a technical conference scheduled for Monday to discuss what ought to be done, Paje said.

“Based on the technical conference, we will recommend sanctions on the company that dumped the waste under the Clean Water Act and based on the Marpol,” he said, referring to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, of which the Philippines is a signatory.

But since the dumping took place in parts of the West Philippine Sea, it would be difficult to determine actual impact, considering the “very high level of dilution” in the ocean, which

Paje noted, “has no boundaries.”

Paje said the Philippine Coast Guard, and not the DENR, was the agency mandated by law to enforce standards and regulations in offshore areas, including the discharge of wastewater by ships.

“The DENR’s role is oversight. But what we can do is guide agencies, including the Coast Guard in building the case against the polluter,” he said in a phone interview.

Disclose probe results

Environmentalist groups Greenpeace and EcoWaste Coalition said Glenn Defense must be held accountable for the environmental crime.

Ira Beau Baconguis, the Philippine program manager of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said a deeper study of the type of toxic materials dumped in the ocean was important.

“The problem is we don’t know exactly what kind of wastes was dumped. The reports said oil and grease, and liquid wastes, but liquid wastes could mean anything,” she told a forum.

Baconguis said liquid wastes could include heavy metals from rust scraping, as well as paints and solvents.

“As long as we don’t have details like that, we can’t say what exactly will happen. We’re now trying to get in touch with our Subic partners to find out,” she said.

EcoWaste urged the SBMA to disclose the full results of the water sampling it commissioned, ascertain with the DENR the environmental laws and standards violated, and file appropriate charges against the company.

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TAGS: EMB, Environmental Management Bureau, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, Roberto Sheen, Subic Bay, toxic waste, US Navy contractor, VFA, VFACOM, Visiting Forces Agreement
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