TORONTO, Canada – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough talk about sending trash back to Canada made headlines here Tuesday, April 23, and the news was widely shared on social media from coast to coast.
It also triggered a range of reactions from Filipino immigrants and ordinary Canadians who were either embarrassed and appalled – either at being identified with the Philippines or with Canada – or defensive. In some instances, comments posted on news websites contained racist undertones, directed not just at Duterte, but at Filipinos in Canada. With federal elections just 6 months away, the issue also provided fodder for supporters of competing political parties.
“The garbage issue can be handled in a more civil and diplomatic way, without the use of unnecessary threats,” said Ruby Caluag, from Milton, Ontario. “But what is new with Duterte? His lack of decency. His expletives and other curses that are not fit for a president… How unfortunate for us, and embarrassing too, to have a president like him.”
Duterte’s threat to declare “war” against Canada over tons of waste shipped to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014 “shows the kind of person he is; his complete and total disregard for human life, ” Caluag said in an interview with Rappler.
He should instead address “many more important issues,” hounding his government, including the Philippines’ dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), graft and corruption, and extrajudicial killings, she added.
Fe Bautista, who moved to Canada from the Philippines 27 years ago said Duterte’s threat to “declare war” on Canada if the garbage issue isn’t resolved was unsettling. “I would be afraid to get stuck in the Philippines, especially since I’m now Canadian.”
Gutsy move or boorish act?
However, one Filipino-Canadian interviewed by Rappler, who requested anonymity said he admired Duterte’s “guts” in publicly upbraiding Canada. (TIMELINE: Canada garbage shipped to the Philippines)
The websites and Facebook pages of news outlets that published news about Duterte’s threat were flooded with comments. CBC News’ story, “‘Eat it if you want to’: Filipino President Duterte lashes out over Canadian cargo of trash,” elicited 2,752 comments as of April 24.
While some urged Canada to “do the right thing,” or praised Duterte while taking a swipe at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“Gotta love Duterte…straight shooter. Not like Mr. Selfie on Entitlement Hill,” wrote reader Donny Brook), there were many comments that leaned heavily against Duterte, and in some instances, against Filipinos in general.
“Duterte is a boor,” said reader Nick Sologar.
“What, they gonna fight us with chickens? The invasion already started lol they all came here for work because their own country can’t support them,” wrote reader Aron Ker.
Another reader, Brad Darb, echoed the sentiment, saying “How about they take back all their trash first as in all the little midgets that come over here and take our jobs.”
To which, reader Chales Day replied in defense of Filipino-Canadians, “I am sure those little midgets have better work ethic than you.”
‘Name and shame the shipper’
Some readers said Duterte should consider how going to “war” with Canada would affect the Philippine economy, noting how Filipinos here have made more international remittances than any group. (Filipinos in Canada sent $1.2 billion to friends and family living abroad in 2017, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.)
Others chose to play the political blame game. “Is there a country left on the planet that the Liberals have not pissed off yet?” commented reader Henry Wrysmulek. Reader Nick Sologar fired back in defense of Liberals, saying, “That garbage was shipped out during the time of Conservatives in Ottawa.”
Some came to the defense of the Canadian government saying the company that shipped the garbage was the one at fault.
Eric Houghton, another reader, questioned Duterte’s motivation for lashing out at Canada. “Hasn’t Canada been telling them to dispose of it and send us the bill? Wouldn’t that make more sense? This guy wants to send it back and posture on the taxpayer’s dime.”
The overwhelming sentiment, however, was that the company who shipped the garbage should be on the hook for disposing of the garbage and dealing with the costs.
“Name and shame the company, first. Second, Canada should do the right thing and accept the garbage back,” commented Jonathan Smythe. “Third, the company needs to be financially accountable for the expense and if that means insolvency and seizure of assets, so be it.”
Added Elaine Abbas: “Shame on us. If another country did that to us, we would be furious. What is the name of the company that did this? Send them the bill and shut them down!”
John MacLeod commented that while Canada “needs to take responsibility for its own garbage (and hold those dumping illegally responsible,” having a leader who runs around “threatening wars that he would lose badly” undermines the credibility of the Philippines.
“I feel bad for the Philippines; having him as leader must be really embarrassing. The People of the Philippines really don’t deserve that,” he said.
Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said on Wednesdat, April 24, that a solution to the problem might be ready “in the coming weeks.”
She also indicated that threats aren’t the way to go, according to the CBC. “We also need to do this in a positive way. That’s certainly the way we’re going forward. It has been a file that’s been going for a while. We’re very close to finding a solution.”
A statement issued by the Canadian embassy in Manila also reiterated Canada’s earlier position that a joint working group, consisting of officials from both countries, was working out ways to ensure that the garbage is “processed in an environmentally responsible way.”
Canada “is strongly committed to collaborating with the Government of the Philippines to resolve this issue and is aware of the court decision ordering the importer to ship the material back to Canada,” said the statement.
The statement did not directly respond to Duterte’s threat, although it noted that this year, Canada and the Philippines are celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations.
“The relationship is built on strong people-to-people ties, our common interest in strengthening political, economic and cultural relations, and in our mutual commitment to peace,” the Canadian embassy said. – Rappler.com