A stinking deal

Two years ago, the Senate and the House of Representatives filed separate resolutions to investigate the alleged dumping of hazardous medical waste from Canada by a private company. Neither investigation, demanded in resolutions filed by then Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and then Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, got beyond one hearing each before they were summarily shut down.

According to people close to both aborted investigations, the leaders of both Houses at the time—Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.—came down hard on the lawmakers in their respective chambers and ordered them to “kill” the probes. The order, these sources said, came directly from Malacanan Palace.

The leaders of the two Houses (who were close allies and Liberal Party colleagues of then President Noynoy Aquino and who are still in Congress today) told their fellow lawmakers that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was taking over the “sensitive” case. This, Drilon and Belmonte said, would require quiet negotiations between the leaders of Canada and the Philippines, without the noise congressional investigations would create.

The result of the negotiations, according to the same sources, was a strange (and probably illegal) “swap”: 500 Filipino nurses would be admitted to Canada, which would no longer be forced to bring back the 106 container vans containing the garbage to their shores.

Then, as now, the Canadian government’s position (as expressed by the Canadian embassy in Manila) was that it could not take back the garbage because the issue was a “private commencial matter.” However, developed nations are prohibited from dumping garbage in developing countries under the 1995 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, which both the Philippines and Canada have ratified; the treaty states that the country where the waste originated should return the waste to its port of origin within 30 days from the time it is notified about the illegal shipment.

Earlier, the Bureau of Customs, through the Department of Justice, charged the owner of a a local company, Chronic Plastics, identified as Adelfa Eduardo, and customs brokers Leonora Flores and Sherjun Saldon with violation of Republic Act 6969 or the Act to Control Toxic Substances and Hazardous Nuclear Wastes for bringing in the Canadian garbage. The three were also charged with violation of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines for the unlawful importation of waste materials from Canada.

At around the same time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced that an interagency body had decided to dispose of the garbage in local landfills because of the “prolonged negotiations” to have the trash shipped back to Canada. DENR Environment Management Bureau director Jonas Leones said the cost of the treatment and disposal would be charged to the importer, Valenzuela City-based Chronic Plastics, which was named as consignee of the exporter, Chronic Inc., a company based in Ontario, Canada.

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The interagency government body also convinced a Manila Regional Trial Court where a case was filed earlier on the matter to hold an inspection and to order the trash disposed of afterwards. “[The garbage] can be locally treated, that’s the best option we can take,” Leones, the EMB director, said.

The DENR concluded that the trash from Canada that began arriving in June 2013 consisted of “mixed scrap plastic and household waste.” “Based on the waste analysis and characterization study, it’s not toxic and hazardous but mixed scrap plastic and household waste [which means] the Philippines has the capability to undertake local treatment,” Leones said.

Meanwhile, then Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina, under pressure from the owners of the container vans used to hold the Canadian garbage and facing a serious overcrowding problem at the choked-up Manila International Container Port, began looking for a suitable place to “bury” the garbage. Lina convinced Rufo Colayco, president of the Metro Clark Waste Management, to take in the Canadian trash at their new, high-tech landfill in Capas, Tarlac.

But that was not the end of the controversy. Environmental activists in Tarlac alleged that the garbage from Canada was hazardous medical waste, saying they found adult diapers, syringes and other potential dangerous material in container vans that were trucked to the landfill.

The Tarlac provincial government led a protest against the disposal of the Canadian trash in Capas, which forced the landfill operator to abruptly stop the operation. Colayco told me yesterday that less than 20 container vans of Canadian trash was dumped in the landfill; the rest of the trash, he said, was brought to the Subic free port (apparently because it could not be returned to Manila and clog up the capital’s piers again).

Presumably, the Canadian trash has remained in Subic since then. Now it’s time to find out several things:

Did the Aquino administration really make a deal with the Canadians to swap nurses for the garbage? Was this the “legal problem” that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was talking about, which he said prevented the return of the trash to Canada?

What happened to the cases filed against the importers/consignees? Where are these people now?

I believe it’s time for the current government to exhume this stinking story and get to the bottom of the trash heap left behind by Aquino and his men.


Topics: Canada , Garbage Issue
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