The hullaballoo over the 103 or so containers of assorted hazardous waste that first landed in 2013 at the Manila International Container Terminal caused a stir among environmentalists, yet was left muted after the then Aquino government reportedly did little to compel its counterparts in Canada to do more to take the waste back.
To call a spade a spade, the entire incident is a slap in Canada’s face, given its image as a clean and environmentally responsible country. That it cleared the shipment of wastes to a developing country may itself be a violation of the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, which Canada ratified in 1992, which we as a Philippines also ratified and for which our own Republic Act 6969 was enacted.
Canadas commitment to this international convention can be read here: (https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/managing-reducing-waste/international-commitments/basel-convention-control-transboundary-movements.html)
The Basel convention was meant to control the tendency of affluent countries to ship waste to poor countries after their own home countries adopted stricter environmental policies in the 1970s that pushed the cost of treating hazardous waste up. Shipping these wastes to poorer countries was seen as a cheaper, yet obviously improper solution.
The convention puts onus of responsibility in treating and disposing of such material on the country of origin. Exports of waste can only be done to countries that have a capability to treat such wastes.
If you read the Basel Convention,you will realize that he situation is much simpler than it seems. What is complicated is when a rich country wants to protect its reputation and forces a poorer one to relent from pursuing legal action to compel it to follow rules.
A Rappler timeline article by Jodesz Gavilan says that as early as 2014, the Canadian embassy was making representations to the Philippine government to allow local treatment of the waste rather than taking them back. (https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/188654-timeline-canada-garbage-philippines)
Thus, Canada’s act to allow and not take back the garbage can be a test case of the Basel convention, whether its provisions can, force a rich country to take back waste it allowed to be shipped outside its borders. The convention was specifically created to prevent developed countries from dumping toxic materials on less developed ones.
The big question is why did it take so long to commit to take it back? What considerations needed to be clarified? Did Canada cooperate with the Philippine authorities to help prosecute the offenders in this case? Surely, the Canadian government knew who shipped it from Canada in the first place.
The fallout for Canada in this case is clear. It risks destroying its credibility and influence in a world where acts of countries are judged harshly. That its citizens are reportedly furious about what happened six years ago should force it to clean up its act, or risk more dirt on its international reputation.