Why Canada garbage still in PH after 5 years while Korean trash is going back

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 16 2019 09:44 PM | Updated as of Jan 16 2019 11:27 PM

'Canada refused to take responsibility over trash'

Then Customs Commissioner Ariel Nepomuceno (2nd left) inspects on February 10, 2014 one of 50 container vans containing tons of garbage held at the container port in Manila. The shipment from Canada was declared as plastic scraps but contained household trash instead. File photo

MANILA – The Philippines will just have to wait until Canada agrees to take back heaps of trash illegally shipped to the Asian country nearly 5 years ago, a lawyer and environmental activist said Wednesday.

Unlike South Korea, which immediately agreed to take back around 6,500 tons of garbage illegally shipped to Mindanao last year, Canada refused to take responsibility for the waste it brought to Manila, said Antonio La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government and also an ex-environment undersecretary. 

A ship that will carry 51 container vans of trash back to South Korea is docked at the Mindanao International Container Terminal on January 13, 2019. ABS-CBN News

"Hindi tinanggap ng Canada. 'Yung Korea tinanggap naman nila. It's really accepting responsibility. There's nothing else except that," he told ABS-CBN News, saying the only move left for the Philippines would be to wait and to continue talking with Canada.

A total of 103 containers of Canadian waste, consisting of household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers, arrived in Manila in batches from 2013 to 2014. Trash from at least 26 containers (out of the 103) have already been buried in a Tarlac landfill.

Chronic Plastics Inc., the Valenzuela-based consignee, was accused of violating Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and the 1995 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Disposal. The garbage was misdeclared as plastic scraps. 

The international convention, to which both Canada and the Philippines are signatories, provides that “the exporting country must take back the waste materials if the receiving country refuses to accept them.” But Canadian officials earlier said there was no violation of the Basel Convention as the shipment did not contain hazardous waste.

In 2016, a Manila court ordered the importers to take the waste back to Canada but the garbage heaps continue to rot in the country's ports nearly 3 years after, leading green group EcoWaste Coalition to question the government's current efforts.

"What happened to the ruling? How long do we need to wait?" said Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition, a group that since 2013 has repeatedly urged Canada to take back its waste. 

"'Yung Canada, from 2013 hanggang 2016, may problema dun sa batas nila. Pero 2017, sinabi ni (Canadian Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau na 'theoretically possible' to get them back na," she added, referring to a statement by Canada's leader in a 2017 regional summit in Manila. 

In a press conference on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in November 2017, Trudeau said he and President Rodrigo Duterte touched on the topic during informal talks. 

"We also discussed the garbage issue which has been a long-standing irritant and I committed to him as I am happy to commit to you all now that Canada is very much engaged in finding a solution on that," he said. 

Trudeau said the Canadian government worked around its laws so it can take back the garbage shipment, adding that it had been barred by its rules. 

"Canadian legal regulations prevented us from being able to receive the waste back to Canada. We had legal barriers and restrictions that prevented us from taking it back, but that's done now," Trudeau said.

There were still questions being discussed, he said at that time, such as "who will pay for it, where the financial responsibility is."

PH, CANADA STILL WORKING ON IT

A Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) official on Wednesday told ABS-CBN News it was doing its best to ship the waste from Canada out of the country soon, as Philippine and Canadian officials have been coordinating on the matter. 

"Wala pa tayong timeline but let's just expect the best ... May order na ilabas na and to coordinate with the Canadian on the process na. Expect na mailalabas na natin siya ng bansa," said Benny Antiporda, DENR undersecretary for solid waste management.

In a previous interview, Antiporda said the Korean case is different from the Canadian private firm's garbage shipment, which was misdeclared as plastic scraps. 

"They are two separate issues, this is not the same incident as the Canada waste. The Canada waste, the principal just ran away and the Filipino principal was left and they had no money to pay for the shipment of the said waste going back to Canada. But the Canadian government was cooperating. But the problem there is it's still an existing case so we cannot even touch the evidence," he said last November.

"This Korean waste is another issue, wherein the proponents are cooperating. We just hope that they won’t turn their back on us because really the full force of the law will be implemented against them."

As of November 13, 2018, the estimated cost for storing the garbage shipments from Canada at the Subic Container Terminal had already reached around P34 million, according to the Bureau of Customs bureau, while the one in a Manila port reached some P2 million.

Asked about the non-compliance (to return the trash) by the parties involved in the shipment, DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations Juan Miguel Cuna said they can only wait for the court's action as they were not authorized to speak on what he calls a "still pending" case. 

"'Yun na nga ang hinihintay namin, what the court will do sa order, dahil lack of compliance e. We're waiting lang for that," he told ABS-CBN News Wednesday. 

As the Canadian trash stays in the country's ports, at least 1,400 tons of garbage have begun the trip back to South Korea while around 5,100 tons more have been packed and readied for their turn, according to the DENR. 

Unlike Canada, the South Korean government itself took legal actions against the firm behind the illegally shipped trash after it found out about the company's false declaration. 

Seoul also found "alien materials" that were not recycled when they inspected the firm's site in Pyeongtaek City, Kim Sunyoung, Minister Counselor of the Korean Embassy, said last November. 

The materials authorities found include "waste wood, metal and other wastes which had not gone through an appropriate recycling process," and mixed with plastic wastes, Kim added.

"The Korean government initiated the legal procedure to have the said shipment of wastes be brought back to Korea by issuing a prior notice of repatriation order," Kim said.

The findings led the South Korean government to take back the garbage.