News Analysis: Diplomatic spat escalates over Philippines, Canada trash row

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-19 20:06:24|Editor: Shi Yinglun
Video PlayerClose

MANILA, May 19 (Xinhua) -- The diplomatic spat between Manila and Ottawa escalates as Canada failed to meet the May 15 deadline imposed by the Philippines to take back the tons of trash that the North American country illegally dumped in the Southeast Asian country from 2013 to 2014.

A day after the deadline lapsed on May 16, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted that he ordered the Philippine ambassador and the consuls general to pull out of Canada. On Friday, Philippine Ambassador to Canada Petronila Garcia landed in Manila, according to the Philippine media.

"We shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there," Locsin added. The "trigger," he said, was Canadian officials' failure to show up at a meeting with Philippine customs officials on May 15.

"The fact alone that (Locsin) has recalled our diplomats there (Canada) shows that we are not only serious, but we're warning them that we're going to sever diplomatic relations with them," Philippine Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing. "Their refusal to bring back the garbage to their shores is disruptive to our diplomatic relations," he added.

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brittany Fletcher said on Friday that Canada is disappointed by the Philippines' decision to recall its top diplomats. However, she said in a statement that Canada will continue to closely engage with the Philippines to ensure a swift resolution of this important issue.


The garbage has been sitting in the Philippines for about six years. In 2013 and 2014, a private Canadian firm exported 103 shipping containers of garbage to the Philippines. Only 69 shipping containers are quarantined in two ports in Manila and Subic Freeport north of Manila. Thirty-four of the containers were already disposed of.

Even the shipment was marked as recyclable scrap, the Philippine Bureau of Customs found the containers were consisting of household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers.

From March 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (DFA) has been appealing to the Canadian embassy in the Philippines to ship the garbage back to Canada.

After three months, then Canadian ambassador Neil Reeder responded to DFA that his government "has no domestic or international authority to compel the shipper to return the shipment to Canada." However, he said Ottawa "would like to explore with the Philippines options for processing the rest of the shipment - in accordance with Philippine law - in the Philippines."

Philippine environmental protection groups slammed Canada for its inaction. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during his first visit to the Philippines to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2015, assured the Philippine government that Canada was trying to come up with a solution to the issue but made no promise that the North American country can bring the trash back.

Two years later, when Trudeau visited Manila again to attend the ASEAN summit on November 2017, the Canadian prime minister said Canada amended its regulations in 2016 so that it was "theoretically possible" for Canada to bring back trash container in the Philippines. However, he also said there were several obstacles like "who will pay for, where the financial responsibility is, where the consequence is."

This April, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte chastised Canada for failing to take action on the waste issue, threatening to forcibly ship the waste back to Canada and dump some at its embassy in Manila if the Canadian government continues to refuse to resolve the long-running issue.

Duterte's tirade forced the Canadian government to issue a statement, saying it is committed to ship back the rotting garbage and that it will pay the full cost of shipping back the 69 shipping containers. Later, Duterte set May 15 as the deadline for Canada to bring back the trash.

The Department of Finance of the Philippines said in a statement on May 7 that Ottawa informed Manila there will be several weeks delayed because "bureaucratic red tape in the Canadian government has slowed down the process of re-exporting the trash back to (Canada)."

As the Canadian government told its Philippine counterparts, the North American country missed the deadline and caused the recall of the Philippine diplomats.

Aaron Rabena, an associate research fellow from the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations said the Philippines has reason to be angry with Canada's longtime inaction.

"Trash or garbage itself has an apparently negative connotation. As the Philippine Senator Panfilo Lacson said, it has something to do with national dignity. By sending trash to the Philippines, Philippine dignity and identity are being disregarded and debased," he told Xinhua in a written interview.


It's a long-existed issue that foreign countries, especially developed countries, keep exporting hazardous waste to the Philippines. Environmental experts say importers of foreign garbage falsely declared by private firms as recyclable plastic scraps.

Reynaldo San Juan, the deputy executive director of local environmental group Ban Toxics told Xinhua that "technical smuggling" of waste is "quite rampant" in the Philippines.

"It is a widespread practice and is used as a common tool to bypass customs officials to allow contraband items, such as the Canadian trash," he said.

"This practice continues because of money. It is cheaper to dispose of the waste in developing countries like the Philippines, where labor is cheap, environmental and health regulations are difficult to enforce. Thus, rich countries take advantage of their economic position to leverage poorer countries to accept the waste, in the guise of recycling," he said.

San Juan said "poorer countries need to provide jobs to its people, and they think recycling toxic waste or harmful garbage is a way to generate jobs. It is unfortunately a misguided policy that is pushed by countries like Canada."

The Philippine environmental group also accuse Canada of violating the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, a 27-year-old international treaty designed to reduce and control the movement of hazardous wastes between countries. It specifically prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from rich to developing countries, like the Philippines.

Both the Philippines and Canada are parties to the Basel Convention. "Canada is actually in violation of international law for the past six years. Under the Basel Convention, Canada should have taken back their waste six years ago when the Philippines asked them to take it back," San Juan added.

"For all its bluster as a good global citizen, Canada is a hypocrite when it comes to its observance of its Basel Convention obligations," he said.


The Chinese government has introduced a tightened ban on solid waste imports.

Thirty-two types of solid waste have been banned from imports since the end of 2018. According to the General Administration of Customs of China, imports of plastic, paper, and metal waste totaled 2.65 million tons in the first two months of 2019, down 22.9 percent from the same period last year.

San Juan said the Philippines should follow the China example, adding that "China has been a leader in protecting its borders from toxic waste."

"We think the Philippines will be well served to follow China to ensure protection against toxic waste dumping, and also plastics import ban. China and the Philippines should work together with other Asian countries to protect Asia from toxic waste dumping," San Juan said.

The Philippine government and its people hope the trash issue between Canada and the Philippines can be solved rapidly. Local experts agree that through this protracted bilateral dispute, more and more Filipinos start to notice and pay attention to the garbage importing issue.

Rabena said he believed that in the future "there will be stricter laws and regulation" in the Philippines for the foreign company to export garbage to this country. Enditem