Wrangling on waste
Per news reports, 5,000 tonnes (translated to 5,000,000 kilograms, as a unit is equal to 1,000 kg.) of mixed wastes on board M/V Christina arrived in Cebu on January 20, with the cargo declared as “solid granular particles of wood chips and synthetic resin”. The goods were consigned to Moving Forward Global Trading Inc.
Horror of horrors, 3,000,000 kilograms (3,000 tonnes) found its way to Barangays Guizo and Tingub in Mandaue City. It would have gone perhaps still unnoticed had residents not alerted the authorities who took steps for them to be sent back to South Korea, as the country of origin. Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing intends to file cases against the parties involved. The Bureau of Customs Cebu District Collector Elvira Cruz was also reported to have issued a warrant of seizure and detention against the consignee’s shipment.
As of this writing, the vessel, however, has not left Cebu port because of berthing space issues.
It seems the investigation by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through the Environment Management Bureau showed that there was no clearance to import the materials. It is valid to ask why the goods were released, lacking this important requirement.
Considering the potential impacts of wastes on the safety and health of the people and the environment, there should be a full-blown investigation by the Ombudsman, no less, on this matter as it is a great public interest issue.
Once and for all, this nefarious transboundary movement of hazardous waste must stop. It is bad enough that our laws and regulations on waste management are not given the importance and prioritization that they should have, at the expense of the forbearing citizenry.
If we continue the inaction by sweeping the waste under the rugs, so to speak, we will be known as “an open dumpsite for the world’s garbage”, as succinctly described by the EcoWaste Coalition.
We should learn from the lessons of the not-so-distant past when a similar dumping of 2,500 tonnes (2,500,000 kilograms) of mixed waste materials occurred in the port of Manila. Labeled “scrap plastic materials for recycling,” the Customs authorities instead found the containers filled with “used mixed and unsorted plastic, household garbage and even used adult diapers.”
The same, however, are still in Philippines shores despite the order of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 1 Judge Tita Bughao Alisuag June 30 last year for the waste to be shipped back to Canada at the expense of the importer, Chronic Plastics Incorporated. The government of Canada has not been receptive to the pleas of environmental groups to take back the waste.
Our law, Republic Act 6969, the Toxic Substance and Hazardous Wastes and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, prohibits the importation of hazardous waste to the Philippines. “Hazardous waste” is defined as “substances that are without any safe commercial, industrial, agricultural or economic usage and are shipped, transported or brought from the country of origin for dumping or disposal into or in transit through any part of the territory of Philippines.”
It also refers to “by-products, side-products, process residues, spent reaction media, contaminated plant or equipment or other substances from manufacturing operations and as consumer discards of manufactured products which present unreasonable risk and/or injury to health and safety and to the environment.”
The Philippines is a party to the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, adopted on 22 March 1989 and which we ratified in 1993. It is said that “The Basel Convention was a response to a public outcry following the discovery, in the 1980s, in Africa and other parts of the developing world of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad. Awakening environmental awareness and corresponding tightening of environmental regulations in the industrialized world in the 1970s and 1980s had led to increasing public resistance to the disposal of hazardous wastes – in accordance with what became known as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome – and to an escalation of disposal costs. This in turn led some operators to seek cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes in Eastern Europe and the developing world, where environmental awareness was much less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking.”
The latest revelation of transboundary waste from the port of Jeju in South Korea dumped in Mandaue City in Cebu is not going to be the last, if we still fail to establish the necessary guidelines and hold accountable the parties to this despicable crime against public health and safety and the environment.
We commend the swift response from the resident, Mandaue Mayor Luigi Quisumbing and other public authorities, which should hopefully deter the commission of such offense in the future in Cebu and in the country.
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