By Getsy Tiglao
The media-savvy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada pulled a fast one on the Philippines. Most everyone here was so captivated by his good looks and charm that they’d forgotten the most sensitive issue in the relations between Canada and the Philippines.
This is the Canadian garbage still stuck and rotting at the Port of Manila, sent to us four years ago, as if our country were a huge dumpsite.
You have to hand it to Trudeau: He knows how media works. Upon arrival here for the 31st ASEAN Summit, Trudeau stopped off at a local favorite, the fast-food chain Jollibee and bought Chicken Joy and strawberry float and gamely posed for group pictures. The next day, he was photographed riding an electric jeepney in Makati.
Trudeau captured a big chunk of the local media coverage despite the presence here of other world leaders for the ASEAN and other related summits, important events being hosted by the Philippines. Canada is not even a big trading or security partner of ours and yet Trudeau, thanks to people’s obsession with good-looking celebrities, got all the good press.
This then explains the sudden amnesia over the fact that Trudeau has failed to act on the Canadian garbage dumped into our shores beginning in 2013, despite saying in 2015 (when he first visited the Philippines) that he will resolve it. He didn’t and hasn’t, and the garbage continues to fester, posing huge health and environmental risks to Manila residents.
Four years ago, during former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration, batches of 40-foot container vans arrived in the Manila port from Canada. They had been exported by a Canadian company called Chronic Inc. and were misdeclared as recyclable materials. Upon inspection by the Bureau of Customs, they were revealed to contain not recyclables but all sorts of garbage including hospital waste, soiled adult diapers, and sanitary napkins.
According to environmental groups, a total of 2,450 tons of garbage were dumped here and were concealed in 103 container vans. The Aquino administration dithered on the issue despite the public protests in front of the Canadian Embassy with even the Senate conducting a public hearing.
Neither did the Canadian government act despite the huge resources at its disposable. It should have done the right thing, which is to take back the garbage generated by its own citizens instead of shipping it off to a developing country to deal with. Canada’s efforts to portray itself as a “global humanitarian” are certain to fall flat if it keeps on dilly-dallying on this issue.
Garbage dumping is a totally reprehensible act, and it doesn’t matter if the shipper was private or government: this is totally unacceptable. Several laws were violated, including Philippine Republic Act 6969 on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes, and the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.
Aquino could have raised the issue with former prime minister Stephen Harvey when he made an official trip to Canada in May, 2015. With his usual inaction on issues of national importance, Aquino just shut his mouth. He later said the matter was already being addressed by relevant agencies.
Just a month later we learn that Aquino was referring to the fact that the waste from 26 container vans had been re-dumped in a landfill in Capas in his home province of Tarlac, and would have continued to do so if the local government had not opposed it. Other areas such as Bulacan and Navotas also opposed hosting the Canadian garbage.
Guess who was one of the few public officials who railed against Canada’s garbage?
Then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who in July, 2015, urged Aquino to lodge a diplomatic protest against the Canadian government. His fighting words foreshadowed the kind of nationalist president he would become, just a year later.
“Why did they do that,” he asked of Canada. “We are being made into a dumping ground. Why are you making my country into a dumpsite? When you do that everytime it is a derogation of our national dignity.”
Trudeau succeeded Harvey as prime minister of Canada and one of his first international events was the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Meeting in Manila in November, 2015. Branded as the “APEC Hottie” he was nonetheless asked about his country’s lingering garbage in Manila.
He said then that a “Canadian solution” was being developed to address the issue, hinting that his government lacked the power to demand action from the companies responsible.
Fast-forward to November, 2017: At the ASEAN Summit press briefing, Trudeau was again asked about the same issue and he answered in much the same way he did two years ago, that Canada was “very much engaged in finding a solution” to the garbage problem.
He said the legal impediments that prevented them from taking back the garbage have now been addressed, although he offered no other specifics. For a developed country with a GDP of $1.672 trillion and per capita income of $46,199, and with dreams of becoming a global leader, this is a shameful answer.
Meanwhile, our own Manila Regional Trial Court on May, 2017, ordered the return of the shipping vans with the garbage to their country of origin with the costs to be paid for by the original exporter, the Canadian company Chronic.
Will President Duterte push for the enforcement of this court order? Or shall we see Trudeau again in a few years time, maybe eating a Jollibee Yumburger, and will he still be offering his spectral “Canadian solution”?