By Roy Mabasa and Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government on Thursday recalled the country’s top diplomats posted in Canada following Ottawa’s failure to meet the May 15 deadline set by President Duterte to ship out the tons of garbage it illegally sent to Manila six years ago.
“At midnight last night, letters for the recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out. They are expected here in a day or so. Canada missed the May 15 deadline. And we shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet this (Thursday) morning.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the recall of the Philippine envoys from Canada seeks to “persuade” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to hasten the retrieval of the shipping containers filled with trash.
“Basta ang posisyon ng Presidente very clear: Tanggalin niyo na ‘yan, otherwise tapos na ang relasyon natin [The President’s position is very clear: You should remove that, otherwise our relations are over],” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“That recall shows that we are very serious in asking them to get back their garbage. Otherwise, we’re gonna sever relations with them,” he said.
The Canadian Embassy in Manila refused to issue any statement and instead directed all media queries to its home office in Ottawa.
Locsin said the order to diminish the country’s diplomatic presence in Canada was prompted by the failure of Canadian representatives to show up at a meeting with the officials of the Bureau of Customs on how to resolve the garbage impasse.
“That the government may consider a 2 to 3 weeks delay DOES NOT EXTEND THE DEADLINE. Our diplomatic presence in Canada shall be de minimis. At the Japanese enthronement ceremony, DOF (Department of Finance) told me that Canada did not show up at a meeting with Customs and that was the trigger,” the foreign affairs chief said in a separate tweet.
The DFA secretary, instead, blamed “fellow officials” who want to maintain friendly relations with Canada “at the expense of defying Duterte and keeping the Canadian garbage here.”
“And finally, to the officials who want me to go easy on the Canadian garbage issue in defiance of Duterte’s orders, this: Remember that Canada has facial recognition tech at its borders and the ugly will not be admitted however avid they are to emigrate,” he added.
Locsin, however, did not name the officials concerned.
Sometime in 2013 and 2014, Canadian exporter Chronic Plastics, Inc. illegally shipped to Manila a total of 103 container vans filled with household trash illegally declared as recyclable plastics.
Thirty-four of the 103 container vans with rotting garbage were disposed of in a landfill in Pampanga.
Last month, President Duterte threatened to go to “war” with Canada if it will not immediately recall the garbage it shipped to the Philippines.
Prior to Locsin’s announcement, Panelo told reporters last Wednesday that the government was prepared to accept a “reasonable delay” in the shipment of the garbage to Canada due to the processing of documentary requirements. He said they expect the garbage to be shipped back to Canada in one to three weeks.
In the briefing Thursday, Panelo explained that the government has noticed the slow action of Canada in shipping the trash back to its country. “We don’t know what is stalling them,” he said.
He cautioned that more Filipino embassy officials may be pulled out from Canada if no progress is made on the trash issue. He said he previously mentioned that Canada’s refusal to bring back the garbage was “disruptive of our diplomatic relations.”
“The fact alone that Secretary Locsin has recalled our diplomats there shows not only we are serious, we are already warning them we are going to sever diplomatic relations,” he said.
“That order of the recall is to persuade them to make it fast. The more they delay, the more personnel will be coming back,” he added.