Philippine church leaders cause stink over Canadian waste

Environmentalists demand Canada's PM take back containers full of toxic waste left dumped at Manila's docks
Philippine church leaders cause stink over Canadian waste

Environmental activist group Ban Toxics displays an image of a container of trash from Canada a few kilometers from where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attending the ASEAN summit on Nov. 14. (Photo courtesy of Ban Toxics)

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines are calling on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take back several shipping containers of toxic waste that arrived in the country from Canada in 2013.

The Canadian premier is in Manila this week for the 31st summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation.

On Nov. 14, Trudeau delivered an impassioned pitch to ASEAN countries to open the door to Canada joining the East Asia Summit and the region's defense ministers’ panel.

"We are ready to contribute to ASEAN's success in an increasingly globalized world," he said, adding that it would allow Canada to become "a full and dynamic partner" of ASEAN.

Climate justice activists, however, said Trudeau has done "a lot of talk and photo-ops" but has not addressed the cargoes of toxic waste that have been waiting to be taken back to Canada.

The shipments — which were labeled as recyclable plastics — arrived in batches from Canada in July and August of 2013, according to watchdogs. 

But it wasn’t until February 2014 that they were discovered to contain hazardous waste materials, after the Philippines’ Bureau of Customs decided to open them due to a foul smell.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila said the ongoing ASEAN summit is an opportunity for the Philippine government to ask Trudeau to take the waste back.

"We should insist that they take back the containers of trash," said the prelate, who is known for his advocacy for the environment.

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the Philippine bishops' social action arm, said Canada should be made accountable for dumping waste in the country.

He said Trudeau needs to take "decisive action" to resolve the issue. "No community deserves to be a dumping ground for toxic waste," he said.

"Until now Canada has not lifted a finger for the re-importation of their waste. This is unacceptable," said Anna Kapunan, advocacy specialist for the group BAN Toxics.

"We ask Mr. Trudeau, what are you waiting for? Must someone become ill or perish before you take action?" she said. 

At least 75 large container vans filled to the brim with rotten Canadian trash are still sitting in Manila's port.

During the 2016 Philippine elections, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte lambasted Canada’s dumping of waste in the country as a "derogation of our national dignity."

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"Why are you making my country your dumping ground? I will call you in a room and force you to eat your trash," Duterte was quoted during the campaign, referring to Trudeau.

BAN Toxics issued an appeal to Duterte to fulfil his campaign promise to hold Trudeau accountable for Canada’s garbage. 

To dramatize their call during the ASEAN summit, activists displayed an image of a container of trash along a major thoroughfare a few kilometers from where Trudeau and other world leaders were meeting.

In a press briefing on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on Nov. 13, Trudeau said it is possible now for Canada to bring back the container vans of trash that were shipped to the Philippines.

He said Canada was earlier hampered by legal regulations that prohibited the country from taking back the garbage from Manila.

"Those regulations and those impediments have now been addressed, so it is now theoretically possible to get it back," he added.

He said Canada and the Philippines need to discuss how to send back the trash, including who should pay for it.

"There’s still a number of questions around who would pay for it.... This was, at its origin a commercial transaction. It did not involve government,” Trudeau said.

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