3 senators seek probe of toxic waste dumping
Three senators on Monday filed separate resolutions calling for an investigation of the supposed dumping of toxic waste from a US Navy ship off the coast of Zambales province by a vessel owned by a Singapore-based multinational firm that allegedly did not have the required registration and permits to do so.
Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Loren Legarda and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III want the probe conducted with the intent of reviewing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippine and US governments.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia Inc. invoked the VFA to avoid being investigated by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
But Malacañang shot down Santiago’s suggestion that the Philippines consider terminating the VFA over the dumping of waste into Subic Bay.
President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the VFA did not apply to the case because the alleged dumping involved a contractor of the US Navy, but not the US Navy itself.
“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has already spoken, and we have already spoken—the alleged dumping, if any, was done not by US Navy personnel and therefore the provisions of the VFA do not apply in this case,” he said at a briefing.
Since this was done by a third-party contractor, “our position is that the VFA need not be terminated,” he added.
Santiago suggested that the government consider terminating the VFA, which governs the conduct of visiting American forces, following reports of dumping of waste by the barge MT Glenn Guardian into Subic Bay.
She said US military forces were the sources of hazardous waste, and that the US pivot to Asia would mean more visits by aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and the increased presence of US naval forces in the country.
Legarda, chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, wants the panel and the committee on environment and natural resources to examine the claim made by Glenn Defense’s Filipino lawyers that the VFA covered its activities in connection with servicing US ships on Subic Bay.
Santiago wants Congress to eventually “create a clearer and more concise measure that will address the lacunae in existing environmental laws to respond to certain aspects of environmental protection that involve foreign parties.”
Pimentel asserted the “need to revisit the VFA to ensure that under no circumstances may the US or any of its agents be allowed to freely dump their toxic, hazardous and possibly radioactive wastes in any part of our territory, be it on land or in our seas, with impunity.”
Legarda cited several Philippine laws that Glenn Defense might have violated after it dumped 189,500 liters of domestic waste and 760 liters of bilge water (combination of water, oil and grease) into Subic Bay:
- Article II Section 16 of the Constitution provides the state shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balance and healthful ecology.
- Section 27 of the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 prohibits the unauthorized transport or dumping into sea waters of sewage sludge or solid waste as defined under.
- Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
- Toxic Substances and Hazardous Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.
Legarda said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was authorized by law to require owners or operators of facilities that discharge regulated effluents to secure a permit to discharge wastewater provided it shall contain information, including the quantity and quality of effluent to be discharged into a particular water body.
The Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992 requires the SBMA to create an Ecology Center to implement measures and standards for environmental pollution control of all areas under its jurisdiction, “including but not limited to all bodies of water,” she added.
Legarda took note of reports that Glenn Defense or its ship MT Glenn Guardian did not have a “discharge permit” required under the Clean Water Act of 2004.
“There were reportedly other instances of toxic waste dumping by Glenn Defense … into the sea and that notwithstanding attempts by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to investigate these incidents, such efforts reportedly bore no fruit following the reported intervention by the VFA Commission,” she said.
Santiago said Article 8 of the VFA provided that vessels operated by the US Armed Forces “may enter the Philippines upon approval of” the Philippine government.
It added that the movement of vessels “shall be in accordance with international custom and practice governing such vessels, and such agreed implementing arrangements as necessary.”
This means that the “overarching principle” of the VFA is that all activities of US Armed Forces shall be subject to prior approval of the Philippine government, Santiago said.
This would already make Glenn Defense’s act of dumping toxic waste without a permit questionable.
Santiago said to Section 1 of DENR Administrative Order No. 2001-28 dated Oct. 12, 2001, stipulated that military exercises and related activities undertaken under the VFA “shall be in accordance with the country’s existing environmental rules and regulations,” including those Legarda cited as well as the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, Wildlife Act and Cave Management Act.
The senator added that Section 3.2 of the administrative order specifically prohibited the following: generation of toxic and hazardous waste, use of nuclear materials and substances that result in permanent pollution to air and water bodies.
Santiago said Glenn Defense’s lawyers should also not push aside the SBMA when it attempted to investigate MT Glenn Guardian’s act of dumping waste into Subic Bay.
She said part of the SBMA’s functions would be “to adopt and implement measures and standards for environmental pollution control of all areas within its territory, including but not limited to all bodies of water and to enforce the same.”
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