environmental issues

DOJ indicts Customs officials over Canada trash complaint

Jairo Bolledo
DOJ indicts Customs officials over Canada trash complaint

WASTE CONTROVERSY. The MV Bavaria, the vessel hired to ship back 69 containers of waste from Canada, sails as Greenpeace activists display a banner during a protest against waste trade at Subic Bay International Terminal Corporation in Olongapo City, Zambales.

File photo from Greenpeace

The 4 Customs officials 'were supposed to know that the items entering the Philippines were hazardous materials and not plastic scrap material,' says a resolution by the Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials over liabilities in the entry of trash from Canada that President Rodrigo Duterte sent back in 2019.

DOJ prosecutors found probable cause to charge Customs officials Benjamin T. Perez Jr, Eufracio Ednaco, Matilda Bacongan, and Jose Saromo for violating Section 13 (d) of the Hazardous Waste Act, or facilitating – directly or indirectly – the importation of hazardous wastes into the country.

The 4 Customs officials “were supposed to know that the items entering the Philippines were hazardous materials and not plastic scrap material,” said the DOJ resolution dated December 4, 2020, but released to media only recently.

“After all, they claimed to have physically examined the subject importations,” the prosecutors added.

Initially, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a complaint for alleged violation of Section 42 of the law, but prosecutors pointed out the law has no Section 42.

The issue began in 2013 when a Canada-based company, Chronic Plastics Incorporated, illegally shipped 69 containers of waste to the Philippines. The trucks were said to contain plastic scrap, but were later discovered as hazardous wastes.

Duterte threatened Canada in 2019 that he would declare war if they don’t take back their garbage. The trash shipments were shipped back in 2019 in the same year.

Environment officials cleared

In the same resolution, the justice department cleared environment officials Juan Miguel Cuna, Irvin Cadavona, Geri Geronimo Sañez, and Renato Cruz of the department’s Environmental Management Bureau.

Prosecutors said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials “could not have determined, prior to the importation, that the shipments contained used, mixed, unsorted or heterogenous plastic materials because it was only during the actual inspection of the shipments that they determined the status or types of materials placed therein.”

It also noted that “there is no showing that respondents Cuna, Cadavona, Sañez, and Cruz caused, aided, or facilitated the importation of hazardous and nuclear waste into Philippine Territory.”

All officials, both from Customs and the DENR, were cleared of graft. –Rappler.com

Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.