Trashing the Country

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photo: change.org

IT WAS DISMAYING to hear in the news today that customs chief Alberto Lina had dumped 55 container vans of Canadian garbage in a Capas landfill. At our expense.

“We have no more problem. The issue is over. Case closed,” the Inquirer reported Lina as saying.

With 48 additional containers of Canadian trash awaiting repatriation, the issue is far from over. There is the further matter of Canada’s transgression of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste, which both the Philippines and Canada have ratified, and the pending case filed by the Bureau of Customs against Chronic Plastics, the firm that shipped the trash in violation of anti-smuggling and toxic waste disposal laws. All told, regardless of what Lina says, we certainly still do have a problem.

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photo: Basel Action Network www.ban.org

It was Lina’s predecessor John Sevilla who filed that case in February 2014 when the first 55 containers, misdeclared as “plastic scrap for recycling,” were discovered after remaining unclaimed for more than 7 months.

Unang una po, ‘di po basurahan ang Pilipinas (First of all, the Philippines is not a trash bin),” Sevilla said then. His decision to pursue the case aligned with the position of environmental groups that this is more than a waste-disposal issue and invokes the tenets of the Basel Convention.

The Convention regulates the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries, and states that any waste shipped in violation of its provisions must be returned to the country of origin within 30 days.

Lina thinks differently. Despite the outcry of local and international environmental groups, he is taking a phlegmatically prosaic stance and chooses to focus on the small picture. “It’s being dumped now at our expense just so there won’t be any issue,” he declared.

“Just so there won’t be any issue”? This is a rather gutless way to eliminate the problem, sir, don’t you think? Or is it your head you are burying as well?

He continued:

“We need containers. The reason why there’s port congestion is because of issues like these…If we’re not able to remove it from the pier, we will have congestion again. What do you want? Port congestion or to dump it? That’s why we dumped it.”

What a mediocre official response to a monumental dilemma. What a paean to expediency. What a justification for moral cowardice. What apathy for the global environmental effort. And what an opportunity for self-assertion the Philippines has missed, all thanks to Alberto Lina.

But he is not the only one who failed to follow through on our strong claim for redress. When President Aquino visited Canada last May, he was called upon to raise the issue in his talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He refrained from doing so, saying that local technical working groups were already crafting a solution.

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photo: Ecowaste Coalition

This “solution,” it turned out, was to dispose of the trash locally by various suggested court-approved methods. This was against the vociferous counsel of green groups who insist that this would not only set a bad precedent for us but for similarly situated countries as well.

The US-based group Basel Action Network has pledged to take action against Canada for this incident and has stated that any attempt by the Philippines to dispose of the waste domestically would be “condemned as aiding and abetting non-compliance” with the Basel Convention. Today, we morally became complicit to Canada’s violation.

This is a problem that has beset the country since 2013 but has had little exposure compared to the showbiz news that consumes the public. It is the kind of news that gets buried – excuse the pun – under tons of political tidbits and intrigue that amount to a hill of nothing. Meanwhile, there is a mountain of Canadian adult diapers and plastic being interred in Capas. This trash is considered toxic to people and ecology, which is why the Basel Convention provides for its disposal in an environmentally-sound manner only in its country of origin.

I used to remember Capas as the land trod by the weary, emaciated heroes who perished in the Death March. Thanks to the cop-out, non-green policies of the Aquino government, it will now be known as a Canadian garbage heap.

I am disgusted by the low esteem with which this government regards our heritage, our people, and our environment. The very officials who should have championed our cause are the very ones who are now trashing it, and they are making us pay the price.

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