Philippines Recalls Its Ambassador to Canada in a Spat Over Trash

Philippines Recalls Its Ambassador to Canada in a Spat Over Trash

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has recalled his country’s ambassador to Canada after Ottawa failed to take back tons of rubbish it had dumped in the Southeast Asian country, the Philippine foreign secretary said Thursday.

The decision came after Canada missed a Wednesday deadline set by Mr. Duterte for Canada to remove more than 100 shipping containers filled with household trash that had made its way to the Philippines more than five years ago. The containers hold common household trash, including used bags and soiled diapers, but they were mislabeled as recyclable materials.

“At midnight last night, letters for the recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter. “They are expected here in a day or so. Canada missed the May 15 deadline. And we shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship-bound there.”

The Canadian Embassy in Manila declined to comment.

Thursday’s announcement came as a surprise, as Mr. Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, had previously said that the president could tolerate some delay in removing the trash.

“If it’s just a slight delay, the president is a reasonable man,” Mr. Panelo said Wednesday afternoon. “What is important is they will take back their waste.”

However, he warned that Canada would have to pay extra storage fees and other penalties, or Manila would “throw back their trash back at them.”

The rubbish — marked as recyclable scrap — arrived in the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 in more than 100 containers delivered from Canada by a private Canadian company. The Canadian government has said that it is working on resolving the dispute. It amended environmental laws in 2016 to set liability for private companies in such cases and to compel them to take back such waste.

On Wednesday, BAN Toxics, an environmental group in the Philippines, called on the Duterte government to immediately halt the importation of hazardous waste and other garbage here in the wake of Canada’s failure to meet its deadline.

It pressed Manila to ratify the amendments to the Basel Convention, which was designed to protect smaller developing countries from becoming dumping grounds for unwanted toxic waste from rich countries. The problem of trash dumping has exploded in Southeast Asian countries ever since China recently stopped accepting most recyclables from abroad.

Reynaldo San Juan, deputy executive director of BAN Toxics, said the Canadian trash was just one of several examples of trash being dumped in the Philippines. In 2018, about 1,400 tons of household waste from South Korea were shipped back to their origin after an outcry.

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