Corruption in the customs bureau has led to mountains of foreign garbage accumulating in the Philippines, a Filipino senator claimed Wednesday during a speech in the upper house, a day before tons of trash were to be sent to Canada.
Despite efforts to modernize the Bureau of Customs, the Philippines remains in “one hell of a mess,” courtesy of corruption that pervades the agency that President Rodrigo Duterte had vowed to clean up, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, an independent, told fellow senators.
“To say that our country is treated like trash appears to be true, as in literally, amid news reports of tons of waste being illegally shipped into our lands, no thanks to local and foreign smugglers, unscrupulous customs brokers and corrupt customs officials,” Lacson said.
Lacson charged that certain elements in the bureau appeared to have neglected their duties by allowing the entry of tons of hazardous waste. Because he made the speech as part of his official duty, the senator was free to speak his mind with full immunity.
Customs officials could not be reached immediately to respond to the senator’s comments.
Thousands of tons of trash that came to the Philippines from Canada several years have not yet been shipped back to the country of origin, despite repeated reminders from the government, the senator noted. It took Duterte having to threaten to dump the trash on Canadian shores personally for Ottawa to take the situation seriously, Lacson suggested.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra, who spoke for the government while Duterte was visiting Japan, said shipments of the Canadian trash would leave the Philippines imminently.
“I have just been informed that the Canadian trash will finally be shipped back to Canada on Thursday. The cost of reshipment from Manila to Vancouver, estimated at 10 million pesos (U.S. $191,000), will be shouldered by the Canadian government,” Guevarra said. “The container vans will be loaded on vessels owned by three shipping companies.”
‘Official dumpsite of Southeast Asia’
The 2,500 tons of waste, which includes common household items such as plastic materials and adult diapers, are in 100 shipping containers located at a dumpsite north of Manila.
Ottawa contended that the garbage was mistakenly shipped to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, and mislabeled as recyclable material.
In recent weeks, the issue of the lingering Canadian garbage has angered Filipinos. It also led to a bilateral dispute, which saw Manila recall its ambassador and consuls to Canada earlier this month.
Last week, the Canadian government said it would take back the garbage by June and cover the shipping costs.
“Luckily for us, we are about to bid this rotting problem goodbye. For a start, the Canadian trash is sailing back to Canada,” Sen. Lacson said Wednesday, noting that countries such as Australia, South Korea and China were known to ship their trash to the Philippines.
“Sad but true, there is already a bandwagon of nations that designate our country as the official dumpsite of Southeast Asia,” he said.
In 2018, South Korea sent thousands of tons of garbage, which arrived here in July and August. Earlier in 2019, the Philippines began shipping 51 containers falsely labeled as plastic synthetic flakes back to South Korea, which agreed to pay for shipping an additional 5,100 tons of waste.
While there have been successes, Lacson said that electrical and residual waste from Hong Kong had entered the country’s ports by being improperly declared as “assorted electronic accessories.” The waste was meant to be a “trial shipment” by a Chinese firm, and about 70 more containers of waste were waiting to be dumped in the Philippines, he said.
“And just last week, Australia shipped seven container vans of shredded municipal waste into our country. Worse, the shipment’s broker was the same company that handled the importation from South Korea,” the senator said.
Lacson, a former police officer who had blown the whistle previously on corruption at the customs bureau, said he would forward the names of an alleged Chinese syndicate behind the shipments of trash, adding it was “well entrenched” and ran a sophisticated operation.
Aileen Lucero, the national coordinator for environmental group EcoWaste Coalition, expressed outrage over the trash shipment from Hong Kong. She said her group found it ironic that the shipment came from there “since China has taken the unprecedented move to protect its own environment by banning waste imports.”
“We denounce this latest attempt to bring into the country over 25 tons of mixed plastic waste from Hong Kong. We therefore request the Chinese government to seriously look into this matter,” Lucero said.
Froilan Gallardo and Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cagayan de Oro and Cotabato, Philippines.