Philippines warns diplomatic relations with Canada at risk amid garbage dispute

Philippines warns diplomatic relations with Canada at risk amid garbage dispute

OTTAWA — The Philippines is not really going to start a war with Canada over garbage but it is warning that Canada’s inaction to take back its trash is threatening 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to “declare war” on Canada earlier this week, saying that Canada had one week to take back the shipping containers of Canadian garbage that are rotting in a port near Manila or he would take action.

Duterte’s Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has since walked back the war threat, downplaying it as a “figure of speech” meant just to underscore how unhappy the president is that the garbage has been sitting in the Philippines for almost six years.

One hundred and three shipping containers arrived in the Philippines in 2013 and 2014, sent by a Canadian company which labelled them as plastics for recycling. Subsequent inspections by Filipino customs officers uncovered that only about one-third of the contents was recyclable. The rest was regular household waste including non-recyclable plastics and soiled adult diapers.

Canada tried to get the Philippines to agree to throw the trash out there — to no avail. Environment groups in both countries say Canada is violating the Basel Convention, an international treaty which prevents developed nations from dumping their waste on the developing world without permission.

Some environmental groups in the Philippines are planning a protest Monday outside the Canadian embassy in Manila to keep attention on the issue, which ramped up in the wake of Duterte’s statements.

A working group was established last fall to negotiate an end to the impasse and, after Duterte’s threats, there finally seemed to be some progress. Canadian officials, including John Holmes, the ambassador in the Philippines, said Wednesday that Canada is going to bring the trash back but that there were still some complex legal issues to overcome. The main issue is who pays, with Canada believing it can’t go after the Canadian company involved until the materials are back on Canadian soil.

Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel, said in a statement Thursday that Canada’s response was vague and reiterated that the Philippines has given Canada until next week to act.

“The 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries will be put to naught if Canada will not act with dispatch and finality the resolution of this undiplomatic episode to which we take outrage,” Panelo said.

“That it even considered performing such outlandish disposal of its garbage to an ally is dangerously disruptive of our bilateral relations.”

Earlier this week, a Global Affairs official said it’s unlikely Canada will find a solution by next week. On Friday, he said Canada is still working hard to find a way “for the garbage to be returned to Canada quickly.”

He said the Philippines government is key to the talks and is aware of the progress being made.

The Philippines’ deadline for action coincides with the regular meeting of the signatories of the Basel Convention which starts April 29 in Switzerland. Some of the groups which have been critical of Canada’s actions asked the Basel secretariat in 2017 to pressure Canada to act. The secretariat did nothing but the groups plan to push it again this year.

Earlier this month a British Columbia law firm issued a legal opinion for and West Coast Environmental Law, stating the number of ways Canada is violating the convention. That included inaccurately describing the contents of the containers, failing to take them back within 30 days of being notified of the contents and attempting to get the Philippines to take responsibility for the contents.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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