The Philippines recalled its ambassador and consuls to Canada after Ottawa missed a deadline for taking back trash it had shipped here years ago, Filipino officials said Thursday, while the Canadian government expressed disappointment over Manila’s diplomatic move in the escalating row.
An angry President Rodrigo Duterte last month gave Canada until May 15 to take back thousands of tons of garbage, which it had sent in shipping containers for dumping in the Philippines, and he threatened dire consequences if Ottawa did not meet the deadline.
“At midnight last night, letters for recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out,” Filipino Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin announced over Twitter. “They are expected here in a day or so. Canada missed the May 15 deadline.”
Henceforth, the Philippines shall “maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship-bound to their country,” Locsin said.
Thursday’s recall of Philippine Ambassador Petronila Garcia and Manila’s consuls to Canada came as a surprise, because just a day earlier when the deadline was due to expire, Duterte’s government appeared to show some flexibility.
Locsin took note that Canada had asked Manila to push the deadline back by two to three weeks, but this “does not extend the deadline,” he said.
Canadian diplomats displayed bad faith by not showing up at a meeting scheduled with officials from the Philippine Bureau of Customs officials, Locsin added.
In Ottawa on Thursday, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was seeking a quick resolution to the issue.
“Canada is disappointed by this decision to recall the Philippine ambassador and consuls general. However, we will continue to closely engage with the Philippines to ensure a swift resolution of this important issue,” ministry spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said in a statement e-mailed to BenarNews.
“Canada has repeatedly conveyed to the Philippine government its commitment to promptly ship and dispose of the Canadian waste in the Philippines. We remain committed to finalizing these arrangements for the return of the waste to Canada,” he said, adding that Canada valued “its deep and longstanding relationship” with Manila.
‘Make it fast’
From 2013-2014, more than 100 shipping containers filled with about 2,500 tons of household waste – including plastic bottles, bags and used adult diapers – were shipped to Manila and mislabeled as recyclable materials.
At least 26 shipping-container loads of the Canadian trash were dumped in a private landfill in Capas town in Tarlac province, north of Manila, according to Philippine lawmakers.
The local consignee of the trash shipment, Chronic Plastics, and two Filipino customs brokers were charged in 2016 with violating a local law that bans the movement of toxic wastes. The trash stayed in the country, despite a court order to ship it back to Canada.
Simmering tensions over the garbage shipment burst into the open in April, when the famously provocative Duterte threatened to sail to Canada and personally dump the unwanted garbage there.
On Thursday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo Jr. said the recall order was aimed at putting pressure on Ottawa to speed up the retrieval of the garbage.
“The fact alone that Secretary Locsin has recalled our diplomats there (Canada) shows that we are not only serious, but we’re warning them that we’re gonna sever diplomatic relations with them,” Panelo told reporters.
“Their refusal to bring back the garbage to their shores is disruptive to our diplomatic relations. That order of the recall is to persuade them to make it fast – the more the delay, the more personnel will be coming back,” he added.
BenarNews staff in Washington and Jeoffrey Maitem, in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.