By Chito Chavez
Protesting environmental groups on Saturday demanded for quicker and more urgent action from the Philippine and South Korean governments on the issue of waste imports.
The call has snowballed into huge proportions as they asked for the immediate and permanent ban on all wastes imported into the Philippines, as well as the immediate return of the remaining garbage from South Korea.
To recall, the provincial government of Misamis Oriental held a hearing on the illegal waste shipment that has been languishing in the municipality of Tagoloan of the said province.
The garbage, which has made a portion of the Phividec Industrial Zone seem like an open dumpsite, caught fire on August 15.
Reports revealed this was probably caused by the presence of methane produced by the trash while toxic smoke had threatened the residents and workers in the area.
It took 11 hours before the fire was put out.
“The pollution from the fire is a wake-up call to speed up the removal of the garbage. We can no longer allow another incident, accidental or deliberate, to occur and put the health and safety of the people at grave risk. President Moon Jae-in should now intervene to hasten his country’s re-importation of their own trash,“ said Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition.
Following the spate of controversies on waste importation, an administrative order is expected to come out this month from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which imposes a three-month moratorium on all waste-related imports.
It also stipulated a P3-million security bond for every permit issued to importers, which is intended to cover potential export costs should violations be found.
However, environmentalists insisted the measure was very temporary and could fail to address long-standing threats from waste imports.
“We need urgent action on long-term solutions. If the Philippine and South Korean governments are serious in solving this crisis, they should act now to legislate a policy permanently banning waste imports.
This should include prosecuting and penalizing parties involved,” said Abigail Aguilar, regional campaign coordinator of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The South Korean garbage, which arrived in the Philippines in July and October last year, was misdeclared as “plastic synthetic flakes”.
It was later discovered it contained contaminated mixed plastics, discarded batteries, and other electronic wastes, soiled diapers, used dextrose tubes, and other hospital and hazardous wastes.
The consignee, Verde Soko Philippines Industrial Corporation, also failed to secure an import permit from the DENR.
An initial batch of garbage-filled containers, weighing 1,400 tons, was sent back to South Korea in January, but the return of the remaining 5,177 metric tons has been undergoing several delays.
This last shipment has turned portions of a government property, which is surrounded by residential communities, into an open dumpsite, but without the stringent measures required to control the environmental and health risks that such a site poses.