Filipinos: Take out Cana­dian trash

Stranded con­tain­ers still fes­ter­ing in Manila

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NATIONAL - ANDY BLATCH­FORD

MANILA, Philip­pines — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s visit to the Philip­pines brought him within a short walk of a Cana­dian con­tro­versy that has lin­gered in the Port of Manila for years: about 100 stranded con­tain­ers crammed with thou­sands of tons of rot­ting trash from Canada.

The case of the ran­cid Cana­dian garbage, fes­ter­ing in Manila for about four years, is well known in the Philip­pines — it has made head­lines and led to protests by en­vi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic-health ac­tivists.

They’ve been call­ing on Canada to repa­tri­ate the waste, which is said to in­clude old wires, CDs, used plas­tic cups and soiled adult di­a­pers. Es­ti­mates in lo­cal news re­ports say there could be as much as 2,260 tonnes of trash in 103 ship­ping con­tain­ers.

The ship­ments were al­lowed into the coun­try be­cause they were al­legedly dis­guised as re­cy­clable plas­tics. Upon in­spec­tion, how­ever, cus­toms of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered they were stuffed with reek­ing house­hold trash — or worth­less land­fill junk.

The cus­toms bu­reau warned the ma­te­rial could be haz­ardous and im­pounded the ship­ment.

Dur­ing a visit to Manila two years ago, Trudeau was asked by a lo­cal re­porter about the Cana­dian garbage.

He replied at the time that a “Cana­dian so­lu­tion” was in the works and he vowed to make leg­isla­tive changes to make sure it wouldn’t hap­pen again.

“It’s two years al­ready and the waste still re­mains here,” said Aileen Lucero, na­tional co-or­di­na­tor of Manila’s EcoWaste Coali­tion, one of many groups that have been fight­ing for the re­moval of the rub­bish.

Coin­ci­den­tally, she said a photo-op Sun­day brought the prime min­is­ter within about 100 me­tres of the site.

Trudeau, in Manila for a sum­mit of south­east Asian coun­tries, made lo­cal me­dia head­lines with his visit to a nearby Jol­libee fast­food joint — a restau­rant chain that’s some­times re­ferred to as the Filipino McDon­alds.

He used the visit as a way to high­light the con­nec­tion be­tween the Philip­pines and Canada, where the com­pany opened a store last year in Win­nipeg to cater to the city’s large Filipino pop­u­la­tion.

With news cam­eras rolling, Trudeau worked his way around the store greet­ing cus­tomers and staff, high-fiv­ing tod­dlers and pos­ing for self­ies. A photo of his visit landed on the front page of a ma­jor Manila daily Mon­day morn­ing.

He also or­dered a meal — to go.

“It is OK for us that the prime min­is­ter dropped by a 100-per­cent Filipino restau­rant and take out fries or a burger for him­self,” Lucero said in an in­ter­view Mon­day.

“But there is (some­thing) much more im­por­tant to take out and that is the Canada waste.”

Her net­work of com­mu­nity groups fears the trash has con­tam­i­nated the area where it’s stored. The in­tense rainy sea­sons in the coun­try likely mean tox­ins have leached into the soil over the years, she added.

In 2014, the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment rec­om­mended the con­tain­ers be re­turned to Canada un­der the pro­vi­sions of the Basel Con­ven­tion, which pro­hibits de­vel­oped coun­tries from ship­ping waste to de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

Ot­tawa is well aware of the fact the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment cares deeply about re­solv­ing the sit­u­a­tion, which was cre­ated by a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion, said a se­nior Cana­dian of­fi­cial who spoke on con­di­tion anonymity.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment had found a way to dis­pose of the waste in a lo­ca­tion in­side the Philip­pines in an en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble way, said the of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly. But Ot­tawa is now wait­ing to see the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment’s next move fol­low­ing a court de­ci­sion, which could mean the trash must be de­ported to Canada.

Canada now stands ready to work with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to trans­port the trash back to Canada, if nec­es­sary, the of­fi­cial said.

Fran­cisco Fer­nan­dez, the deputy chief of mis­sion at the Philip­pine Em­bassy in Ot­tawa, said the case is still be­fore the courts in the Philip­pines, but of­fi­cials from both coun­tries are work­ing to find a so­lu­tion.

“I think both sides have al­ready in­di­cated their will­ing­ness to ad­dress the is­sue in a quick man­ner as pos­si­ble tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion what­ever de­ci­sion the trial court of the Philip­pines would have as re­gards the com­plaint pend­ing be­fore it,” said Fer­nan­dez.

News re­ports have said that Chronic Inc., a plas­tics ex­porter based in On­tario, shipped at least some of the con­tain­ers to the Philip­pines in 2013 and 2014. Jim Makris, the head of Chronic, could not be reached for com­ment Mon­day.

But he has flatly de­nied he shipped waste to the Philip­pines.

“Their story of this garbage thing is just driv­ing me nuts,” Makris told the Toronto Star in 2014. “Any­body who’s in plas­tic, who knows plas­tic, will tell you. It’s the stu­pid­est thing I’ve heard of in my en­tire life.”

Lucero said she would’ve ap­pre­ci­ated a visit by Trudeau to the waste site while he was in the area, so he could see it with his own eyes.

“Canada has the re­sources ... they have their own means of re­mov­ing waste and treat­ing waste in an en­vi­ron­men­tal man­ner,” she said. “Be­fore the Cana­dian waste hap­pened, Canada had a great rep­u­ta­tion of es­tab­lish­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal health.”

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau shakes hands as he walks through a build­ing’s lobby in Manila, Philip­pines, on Mon­day.

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