Ombudsman suspends DENR exec over Canada trash

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the suspension of Environment Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna in connection with the controversial shipment of container vans of trash from Canada in 2013.

The Ombudsman said in statement on Friday, June 29, that it found Cuna guilty of simple misconduct and ordered his suspension without pay for 3 months. 

It directed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to implement the suspension order. 

The Ombudsman also said in its resolution that it found probable cause to file graft charges against Cuna for “gross inexcusable negligence," as he allegedly mishandled the shipment of container vans of Canadian exporter Chronic Plastics Incorporated. (READ: TIMELINE: Canada garbage shipped to the Philippines)

The Ombudsman said that based on its investigation, even without securing import entries for its shipment, Chronic Plastics exported several shipments of container vans declared as plastic scrap materials which arrived in the port of Manila in July 2013 and August 2013.  

The shipment was declared as abandoned after it was not claimed by consignee Live Green Enterprise. The Bureau of Customs later discovered that the container vans were filled with non-recyclable garbage.

The shipment was declared illegal due to lack of importation clearance and subject to confiscation and seizure proceedings.

Ombudsman investigators said Cuna –  chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Environment Management Bureau (DENR EMB)  at the time – “issued a Registry Certificate for the Importation of Recyclable Materials Containing Hazardous Substances dated 19 June 2013 despite the lack of details in the Importer’s Registry Sheet.” 

“It was also found that Cuna issued 6 Importation Clearances to Chronic Plastics despite an existing Notice of Violation dated 05 September 2013 for importing heterogeneous and assorted plastic materials in violation of DENR Administrative Order No. 1994-28,” the resolution said.

The Ombudsman said that based on the findings, "Cuna acted with gross inexcusable negligence when he issued a Registry Certificate in favor of Chronic Plastics despite the insufficient details in its Importer Registry Sheet."

The Ombudsman said that the company’s “failure to comply with the rules is apparent on the face of the application.”

“Without the necessary information, the EMB cannot sufficiently make a determination that Chronic Plastics is capable of recycling materials to be imported. However, despite this, respondent Cuna still approved Chronic Plastic’s application for registration,” it said in its resolution. 

The Ombudsman stressed the mission of the EMB "to protect, restore and enhance environmental quality towards good public health, environmental integrity and economic viability."

"It is also mandated to strictly implement environmental laws and restrict or prohibit the importation, manufacture, processing, sale, distribution, use and disposal of chemical substances and mixtures that present unreasonable risk and/or injury to health or the environment,” it said.

Environmental groups in the country have been asking Canada to get back its trash.

Then President Benigno Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte had taken up the issue during their respective bilateral meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Each time, Trudeau promised that Canada "will continue to work on this and hopefully resolve this." – Rappler.com