As much as we hope that our country the Philippines be not a rich world dumping ground, the people have also spoken that they cannot stomach any longer the trash-talking Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippine president’s well-publicized threat to declare war on Canada over trash shipped to the Philippines is a cherry on top of the messy relationship between Duterte and Trudeau.
Why is Canadian garbage in the Philippines?
This garbage dispute has been ongoing since Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
The shipping containers arrived in Manila in 2013 and 2014, after Philippine officials say an Ontario-based private firm falsely declared the containers held recyclable materials.
But it later turned out that it was actually household trash — inspectors even found used adult diapers. Filipino media reports say there could be as much as 2,500 tons of trash in 103 shipping containers.
The Philippines has since been calling on Canada to take the trash back. A Manila court ordered the private importers in 2016 to ship the waste back to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated in 2017 that is something Canada may do.
Canadian regulations “prevented us from being able to receive the waste back in Canada,” Trudeau said at the time. He said those legal barriers have been dealt with “so it is now theoretically possible to get it back.”
Has the Philippines become a foreign waste dumpsite?
This is not the first time the archipelago has been dumped on by the developed world. In 1999, exactly a decade ago, more than 100 containers of hospital and household waste were shipped to the Philippines from Japan. Just 5 months after the vans were intercepted in the Manila port, Japanese government chartered a ship and took back the waste after it was confirmed that it is hazardous and poses health risks.
And more recently, over 5,000 tons of hazardous waste from South Korea stir outrage among Filipinos officials and environmental groups as the Philippines already has a gargantuan garbage problem.
Did Canada violate the law?
Advocates say the shipments violate multiple parts of the Basel Convention, a 30-year-old treaty that Canada signed in 1989 that prevents countries from shipping hazardous waste to the developing world without consent.
Anthony Ho, a lawyer for the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, said containers should have been shipped back to Canada within 30 days of the Canadian government being made aware of them under the convention.
The Canadian government has for five years refused to do so, despite requests from Philippine authorities and despite an order by a Philippine court.
Why can’t Canada repatriate the refuse right away?
Seems like Canada is at odds with the garbage situation. The Canadian Embassy claims the issue was a “private commercial matter” between a Canadian exporter and its Philippine importer-partner that exported the containers. Other than being shipped from Vancouver, little is known about where the material really came from as well.
Canada is not signatory to a 1995 amendment that would ban all shipments of hazardous waste.
Until 2016, the Canadian government did not have the legal tools to compel a shipper to take back waste, according to Ho.
How likely will a war occur?
When push comes to shove, the Philippines cannot go to war, as in an armed conflict, with Canada, with which a military training co-operation program is formalized since 2014. Among the training provided to Filipino soldiers are everything from “senior management courses” to “national security,” the latter an umbrella phrase allowing military abuses in which civilian casualties are dismissed as “collateral damage” or, as drone operators refer to their victims, “bug splat.”
The North American country can quickly dispose of Philippine forces should the two militaries face each other in battle.
How about a trade war?
Canada has strong ties with the Philippines. The Southeast Asian nation has a surplus in the goods trade — it exports $1.3 billion of merchandise to Canada, more than double the $626 million its North American counterpart sends. It also has benefited greatly from “development assistance” on relief efforts, rebuilding livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction, especially after super typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Canada has provided $20.5 million for longer term economic recovery from 2015 to 2019.
There are more than 558,000 Philippine-born immigrants here, according to 2016 census data. Statistics Canada reported recently that Canadian residents sent $1.2 billion in remittances to the Philippines in 2017, more than to any other country.
Private mining companies have also been aggressive when it comes to resource extraction in the Philippines. Catherine Coumans, research and Asia-Pacific program coordinator of Mining Watch Canada said that a lot of mine tailings remains at a mining site even after 50 years since a Canadian mining corporation started operations on the island of Marinduque. It is well documented that about 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings has choked Boac River, flooded villages and killed marine life. One wonders where is the combative Duterte standing up to this longrunning case of Canadian mining waste.
Duterte’s braggadocio remark thrives on Canada’s weak response to the ripening refuse. Definitely, the Philippines is not the garbage dump of any foreign power, and must not be a pushover in its defence of territory and exclusive economic zone. However, the Philippine president’s plain populism perpetuates political patronage. Thus, the call is for an independent and consistent foreign policy.
There is a need for greater transparency from the Government of Canada in order to carefully monitor these transactions to ensure that they are not contributing to the sordid humanitarian crisis in the Philippines. This latest case of foreign dumping not only have raised the public’s ire for environmental accountability, but that Canadian corporations have continued to swoop in to profit from dispossession, displacement, and destruction, including mining with human rights abuses, waste dumping and man-made disasters.
Canada may well be compromised in its ability to negotiate unless it acknowledges that it violated international conventions and does something to end the rotting-refuse row. There are plenty of organizations working toward such changes, so the Canadian government, if it does wish for a ‘timely resolution,’ needn’t look far for advice. We invite those seeking to channel their justified rage, sadness, and desire to act to meet with or join your local BAYAN-Canada organization.
As both regimes are exposed of their stink, larger questions loom: Will serious action be taken as a precedent global gold standard for corporate respect human rights standards and environmental responsibility? Will supply of military equipment and training be ordered to stop in repressing their own people? Will domestic concerns be resolved if the people’s right to self-determination, and other collective rights continue to receive pushback from authorities?
The Filipino people are fed up with this putrefying mess and inaction. Our survival is non-negotiable.
Repatriate all waste shipment to Canada! Dump Duterte!
BAYAN Canada, an overseas chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), is an alliance of organizations of Filipino migrant workers, women and youth, indigenous people, church people, healthcare workers and professionals committed to advancing the cause of genuine national independence, people’s democracy and a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.