Today is the first anniversary of a historic victory that saw 69 of the 103 container vans of illegal garbage shipments from Canada being returned to their origin after six years of controversy and protest.
To recall, 103 containers of mainly residual garbage amounting to 2,400 tons arrived in the Philippines from Vancouver, Canada between 2013 to 2014. Customs and environmental officials intercepted the trash imports falsely declared as recyclable plastics sparking calls for “return to sender” in the streets and the halls of Congress.
“Like a thief in the night” as critics would say, wastes from 26 containers were illicitly emptied on a private landfill in Tarlac in 2015. On May 31, 2019, following a strongly-worded ultimatum by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, 69 containers were finally shipped back to Canada. The other eight containers could not be accounted for.
To mark the momentous occasion that is considered a victory for environmental justice and the rule of law, concerned civil society leaders looked back on what had transpired and what should be done to avoid it from being repeated.
Dr. Angelina Galang, President of Green Convergence, remarked “that tons of illegal waste can pass through the authorities of an advanced country and being allowed to sit at the port of a developing country for several years is beyond any measure of acceptability.”
“The private persons who were the exporter and the importer must be held accountable,” Galang, an environmental educator said, as she urged Canada “to compensate the Philippine government for the damage done and costs incurred.”
“Our long and difficult struggle to get the Canadian garbage returned to its source shows that existing regulations are weak and subject to grave abuse by unscrupulous waste traders,” said civil society ally and former Ang NARS Party-list Representative Dr. Leah Paquiz, who in 2014 called for a congressional inquiry on the unlawful importation.
“In fact, illegal waste shipments arrived from Hong Kong and South Korea while we were in the thick of the campaign. To really protect our country from becoming a top destination for foreign waste, the government has to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and bar all waste imports,” she emphasized.
For Rene Pineda, one of the intervenors in a court against the garbage importer and customs broker, “the Philippines cannot escape from being the favorite dumping ground of hazardous waste by developed nations if we fail two urgent steps.” According to Pineda, “first, we should ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and second, we should stop tinkering with legalizing the burning of waste through waste-to-energy (WtE) proposals.” He added that “common sense dictates that developed nations who are proponents of WtE technologies cannot incinerate the waste they export to us.”
“Kasama kami sa mga pagkilos para maibalik ang basura ng Canada sa kanilang pinagmulan. Mahalaga ang naging paglahok ng mga grupo mula sa komunidad para maipanalo ang ating minimithi,” (We are involved in the actions to send back Canadian waste to their source. The involvement of groups from the communities is crucial to winning our aspirations) said Charina Davin, Vice-President of the Samahan ng mga Mangangalakal sa Capulong (an informal waste sector group), who, together with other citizens took part in the “return to sender” activities organized by environmental health and justice groups outside the Canadian Embassy and the ports of Manila and Subic.
Sustainable development advocate Noli Abinales, Adviser of Buklod Tao, said the controversy reinforced his despise against dumping. “Locally and globally, dumping is abhorrent,” he declared. He rejects the dumping of unsegregated garbage in the protected mountain and watershed areas of San Mateo, Rizal, as he deplores the dumping of foreign garbage, like those from Canada, “in my beloved country.” Abinales is concerned that “garbage dumping nowadays could contain COVID 19-infected protective personal equipment (PPE) and other biomedical wastes.”
For Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, “our country’s battle with dumping is far from over as we have not decisively shut the doors against foreign waste imports.”
“As the entry of foreign waste will likely persist unless corrective regulations are put in place, we call upon President Duterte to implement his abhorrence against waste dumping through a law banning the importation of all wastes, including plastics intended for recycling,” she said, noting that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has yet to rescind its policy allowing the importation of waste, including “recyclable materials containing hazardous substances,” particularly electronic, metal and plastic scraps, fly ash and used oil.