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Poe, Roxas, Santiago weigh in on controversial Canada trash

MANILA, Philippines – How will presidential candidates solve the controversial Canada garbage problem and prevent it from happening again?

This was a question raised by green group EcoWaste Coalition to 5 candidates eyeing the presidency in the May 9 polls. (READ: Pro- or anti-environment: What can we expect from presidential bets)

In a statement released Saturday, April 23, the group revealed only 3 of the 5 candidates responded to its 9-point questionnaire on wastes and toxics: Liberal Party bet Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, and senators Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor Santiago.

Government has racked up expenses due to the stranded garbage inside 103 container vans that accumulated in Manila ports from 2013 to 2014. (READ: Petition asks Canadian PM Trudeau to take back illegal trash)

The container vans of trash came from Canada and were exported by the same Canadian company, Chronic Incorporated, based in Ontario. (READ: Canada PM Trudeau on trash: We're working on laws for future)

Poe, Roxas, and Santiago gave specific measures on how they plan to solve the Canada garbage problem during their first 100 days in office. 

Poe said her administration will "facilitate bilateral talks with the Canadian government to repatriate the wastes back to Canada."

She also vowed to take immediate steps in ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment to make sure "no hazardous wastes are shipped from developed countries to developing countries for any reason."

Roxas, meanwhile, said it's time to ask the Canadian government "to assume equal responsibility to remove these waste materials from the Philippines at the soonest time possible."

He added: "While these were imported by a private company, they would not have reached the Philippines without clearance from concerned Canadian authorities…. We will task the Department of Foreign Affairs to send an official letter to Canada demanding them to take back all these containers which were imported in violation of Philippine laws and the Basel Convention."

EcoWaste Coalition pointed out that Roxas' answer was more categorical, unlike his biggest endorser, President Benigno Aquino III.

Aquino and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not discuss the trash problem at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Summit in Manila last year.

In a news briefing in Manila, Trudeau was non-committal on Filipino environmental groups' call for Canada to bring back its trash. He said Canadian officials would work on "loopholes" in their laws to avoid similar problems in the future.

Canada trash 'a corruption issue'

"If elected, I will invoke the Basel Convention to force Canada to take back the trash it dumped on Philippine soil," EcoWaste Coalition quoted Santiago as saying.

Based on the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes – a treaty signed by both the Philippines and Canada – the country responsible for importing toxic waste should return the waste to its port of origin within 30 days of being notified of the importation.

As senator, Santiago filed at least two resolutions on the issue. (READ: Group takes illegal Canada garbage issue to int'l body)

The first resolution in 2014 urged her colleagues to investigate the matter in aid of legislation, while the second resolution in 2015 urged the government to consider the Basel Convention in negotiating with Canada.

Santiago said processing the waste in the country "sets a dangerous precedent."

"If we allow one country to turn the Philippines into a garbage dump, we are telling all other countries that they can do the same," she added.

Santiago believes that the Canadian garbage is also, in a way, a corruption issue, since the Philippines' Bureau of Customs (BOC) was unable to perform its functions properly because it is "so corrupt."

"The solution there is to appoint a few good men to run the BOC and for Malacañang to stop meddling with the bureau. Corruption at the BOC will cease only if not tolerated by Palace officials," Santiago added.

Both Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Jejomar Binay failed to respond to the questionnaire, but EcoWaste Coalition pointed out Duterte had strongly spoken in the past against the illegally-shipped garbage.

In 2015, the mayor urged Aquino to lodge a diplomatic protest against the Canadian government over the matter. – Jee Y. Geronimo/Rappler.com