Garbage Wars: Here's why Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to "declare war" on Canada

Canada has been dodging the question of their hazardous garbage dump in Manila for years now, prompting strong reactions from the Filipino leader.


                            Garbage Wars: Here's why Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to "declare war" on Canada

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to "declare war" against Canada on Tuesday if they fail to remove tons of garbage that were shipped to Manila almost six years ago.The controversial leader has given one week's time to take the garbage back, saying he will "give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail."

While the warning has since garnered international attention, many are wondering why the Filipino strongman took such an extreme stand on an issue that could be solved diplomatically. Well, the situation is not as simple as it may seem.

Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a labor day campaign rally on May 1, 2016, in Manila, Philippines. (Getty)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the Philippines earlier this week for the 31st Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). While several of his fans were head over heels for him, others called him out for not taking due action on his country's garbage after it was illegally shipped to the Philippines back in 2013.

Six years have passed since the first batch of Canadian garbage-laden ships arrived at Manila, but Canadian leaders still aren't able to fully commit to resolving the issue. However, it is important to know what led to this quagmire in the first place.

Between June and August 2013, a total of 50 containers arrived in six installments at the Manila International Container Port (MICP). At the time, the carrier vans, shipped by Ontario-based Chronic Plastics Incorporated (CPI), were declared to contain recyclable plastic scrap materials. In December 2013, 48 more container vans arrived in four batches in Manila from Canada, reportedly containing "household trash."

The problem arose when consignee Live Green Enterprise failed to claim the shipment, and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) was advised by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to send it back citing health and safety concerns.

Workers collect plastic bottles in a village that thrives on waste segregation for a living on April 18, 2018, in Manila, Philippines. (Getty)

The bureau opened up containers on 18 vans following standard procedure in January 2014, discovering plastic bottles, newspapers, household garbage, plastic bags, and used adult diapers in the process. Upon realizing the waste was hazardous, they decided not to open the rest of the containers. 

Bear in mind, disinfecting the opened vans had already costed the government P20,000 ($393), according to Philippines' Department of Health.

The following month, BOC filed various charges against Adelfa Eduardo, owner of Chronic Plastics, after it violated the country's Toxic Substance and Hazardous Wastes and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, as well as the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP).

In March 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sought assistance in shipping the garbage back to Canada. In response, Canadian ambassador Neil Reeder said his government "would like to explore with the Philippines options for processing the rest of the shipment – in accordance with Philippine law – in the Philippines,” but he soon changed his position saying the Canadian government "has no domestic or international authority to compel the shipper to return the shipment to Canada."

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to give a news conference on March 7, 2019, in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Dave Chan/Getty Images)

After a state visit by then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in May 2015, then-President of Philippines Benigno Aquino III revealed he had failed to discuss the issue of the illegally shipped garbage. He said at the time there had been positive developments in the case of late and that the issue had already been dealt with locally.

Frustrated by inaction, at least 26 containers out of 50 were emptied at a landfill in Capas, Tarlac, the following month. 

After a couple more months of exchanging letters and reaching no substantial resolution, Prime Minister Trudeau arrived at the Philippines to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2015. However, he was markedly non-committal on the prospect of effectively bringing back the103 containers of trash to Canada.

“Well, I think, going forward, we need to ensure that if a situation like this were to arise once again that the Canadian government has more power to actually demand action from the companies responsible,” Trudeau said at the time. “I believe there are loopholes here that were allowed to be skirted that we need to make sure we close, both for Canada’s interest and for our good relationships with our neighbors."

Two years went by and nothing was done to address the unstable bilateral situation, which grew tenser by the day.

Children playing on a beach filled with plastic wastes on April 14, 2018, in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

In November 2017, Trudeau said it was “theoretically” possible for Canada to bring back 103 container vans of garbage illegally shipped to the Philippines, but he did not fully commit. “Even though it originally came from Canada, we had legal barriers and restrictions that prevented us from being able to take it back,” he said at the time. “Those regulations and those impediments have now been addressed, so it is now theoretically possible to get it back.”

Several environmental groups across the world then wrote to Trudeau and his environment minister, urging them to remove the waste and also ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the export of dangerous waste from developed to developing countries.

Canada, however, did not adequately respond to the calls and instead riled up the Philippines' administration further. 

Eventually, in April 2019, President Duterte went on the offensive and warned Canada to take back its garbage within a week's time, or he would "declare war" on the country.

"I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way," he said. "Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to. Your garbage is coming home."