(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines - The alleged dumping of toxic waste on Subic Bay by a US Navy contractor is not covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed between the Philippines and the United States, the Palace said on Sunday, November 11.
"From what we understand, the VFA does not yet apply because this particular entity -- Glenn Defense Marines Asia -- is a third-party corporation, which does not fall under the VFA," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte noted in a press briefing.
Those covered by the VFA can invoke the accord to avoid investigation by local authorities.
Ratified in 1999, the VFA provides the framework for regulating the presence of US military forces and equipment in the Philippines during joint military exercises and port calls of US warships.
Glenn Defense Marine Philippines was servicing American ships that recently took part in the recent joint military exercises.
In a letter addressed to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), the navy contractor, through its lawyers, said that the port authority has no jurisdiction over the company as it is covered by the VFA.
Glenn Defense Marines Asia argued that since the vessel is “not commercial” and “operates for the benefit of the US armed forces,” the case should be handled by the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFACOM.
Valte said that "of course, it's a point of concern for us" but stressed that Malacañang will wait for the results of the planned Senate investigation on the matter as well as the ongoing probe by the SBMA.
Media reports said earlier this week that SBMA officials found 189,500 liters of domestic waste and 760 liters of bilge water inside the tanker MT Glenn Guardian during an inspection on October 15.
When the officials returned to take samples the next day, the cargo had been dumped into the sea without the necessary permits, according to the same sources.
The captain of the ship, Edilberto Acedilla, reportedly told the SBMA that the water in the tanks had been treated, but a test conducted by the officials officials showed that the toxicity of the liquid waste left in the ship exceeded levels set by international marine pollution conventions.
The incident is set to be investigated by the Senate in a move spearheaded by Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
According to Santiago, under EO 199 the VFACOM is only a "monitoring body" and does not have "quasi-judicial powers" that could address such issues.
Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Chairman Sen Francis “Chiz” Escudero wants a probe, regardless of jurisdiction.
“The main point that we need to determine at this point is whether hazardous wastes were dumped on Philippine waters and if so, how do we proceed to clean up, hold the contractor accountable, and make sure that such an incident does not take place again in the future,” he said.
The VFA was also rejected by environmental organizations like the EcoWaste Coalition, a network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups pursuing sustainable solutions to waste, climate change and chemical in the Philippines.
"Does the agreement imply that US vessels or vessels contracted by the US government to service their ships can freely and without any encumbrances dump their toxic and possibly radioactive wastes in Philippine waters?", the coalition said on its blog. - Rappler.com