Trash Talk Across the Pacific: Is It All Garbage?

By Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver, BC

The garbage talk that has dominated headlines in the past weeks is beginning to be a political circus.

Nobody knows who is telling the truth, and until we see the container ship docked in the Port of Vancouver, we will not really see the end of this trash.

Canadian officials reacted to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to go to war if the garbage is not repatriated by May 15, saying that they were working to solve the impasse. However, the deadline passed with no apparent action.

The volatile president responded by ordering his diplomatic officials to be recalled, triggering a Canadian order to have the garbage shipped here by the end of June. The order even named the company – French shipping conglomerate, Bollere Logistics – that won the contract to ship the containers.

Vancouver waste disposal officials have confirmed that they are ready to accept the shipment as soon as it arrives.

However, on Thursday 23 May, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the President had rejected the late-June timeline and was moving forward to ship the garbage back to Canada under Philippine guidance.

This statement begs the question, what happens with the Bolorre contract?

All legal issues have been settled, and it looks like the garbage should be on its way any day now.

That is, if somebody can predict what President Duterte will do next.

The garbage coming back is the remainder of 103 shipping containers sent to the Philippines by a Canadian company in 2013 and 2014, falsely labelled as plastics for recycling.

The company, Chronic Inc., is reported to be no longer in business.

Before 2016, Canada’s regulations under the Basel Convention only stipulated that the convention applied to shipments Canada considered hazardous. Canada did not then, and still does not, consider the waste to be hazardous. The Philippines does.

As a result of this case, Canada changed its regulations to prevent this kind of situation from recurring.

Impacting Philippine-Canada Relations

Winnipeg Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, whose riding contains the biggest concentration of Filipinos in Canada, told Philippine Canadian News that this issue is an “embarrassment” to Canada.

“I don’t fault President Duterte for doing what he does,” Lamoureux said by phone from Winnipeg yesterday. “To Duterte’s credit, doing in the fashion that he does, something is being done and the garbage should be here by the end of the month.”

Lamoureux said bureaucrats as far back as Harper’s administration left the issue for too long, and that now Canada and the Philippines are trying to resolve it quickly.

“How quickly that it is, is President Duterte’s choice,” he said.

Lamoureux chairs the parliamentary friendship group between the Philippines and Canada, and has met Philippine Ambassador to Canada Petronila Garcia before she was abruptly recalled over the garbage issue.

Foul-mouthed President

Garbage-filled containers are not all that rare in the Asia Pacific, with the Philippines dealing with another such shipment this week from Australia.

Last year, South Korea took back containers of trash that had ended up in the Philippines in just a matter of months, drawing negative comparisons for Canada, the latter of whom sat on its hands for almost six years.

Duterte has also hinted at following China’s move to bar plastic recycling imports entirely. China used to be the biggest importer of recyclable plastics, but in 2018 barred most shipments because too many of them were contaminated with materials that could not be recycled.

Some critics in the Philippines believes Duterte is posturing for China who is at loggerheads with Canada over the arrest of a Huawei executive, now awaiting extradition to the U.S.

Duterte’s tirades against Canada also happened just before the Philippine mid-term elections.

Put in the context with what happens to most of Duterte’s promises, it is doubtful if the garbage issue will ever be resolved by his administration.

Duterte vowed to solve the Philippine drug problem within six months in office. Instead, the problem has gotten worse and his only achievement has been the killing without due process of more than 26,000 alleged drug addicts, the majority of whom are poor. The big drug lords are still free.

The foul-mouthed president will continue to spout garbage out of his mouth. The current controversy with Canada is proof of that.

Expect some more stink from Rodrigo Duterte.

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Ted Alcuitas is the founder of Canada's first Filipino newspaper, est. 1976. He is also former Senior Editor of Philippine Asian News Today and current publisher and editor of Philippine Canadian News.