Environmental groups have reiterated their call for an immediate permanent ban on all wastes imported into the Philippines and urged the government to move quicker on returning the remaining garbage from South Korea.
In a joint statement, EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace Southeast Asia cited the pollution brought by the illegal waste shipment in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.
The groups said the garbage, which had made a portion of the Phividec Industrial Zone in the municipality seem like an “open dumpsite,” caught fire on August 15, possibly due to the presence of methane it produced. The group alleged that the toxic smoke from the fire added to the threats that residents and workers in the area were already exposed to. It took 11 hours before the fire was put out.
“The pollution from the fire is a wake-up call to speed up the removal of the garbage. We can no longer allow another incident, accidental or deliberate, to occur and put the health and safety of the people at grave risk. [South Korea’s] President Moon Jae-in should now intervene to hasten his country’s re-importation of their own trash,“ said Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition.
While the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is expected to release an administrative order (AO) that imposes a three-month moratorium on all waste-related imports, environmentalists stressed that the measure was “very temporary” as it failed to address long-standing threats from waste imports.
“We need urgent action on long-term solutions. If the Philippine and South Korean governments are serious in solving this crisis, they should act now to legislate a policy permanently banning waste imports. This should include prosecuting and penalizing parties involved,” said Abigail Aguilar, regional campaign coordinator of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The AO stipulates a P3-million security bond for every permit issued to importers, which is intended to cover potential export costs should violations be found.
The garbage shipment from South Korea, which arrived in the Philippines in July and October last year, were misdeclared as “plastic synthetic flakes,” but actually contained contaminated mixed plastics, discarded batteries and other electronic wastes, as well as soiled diapers, used dextrose tubes, and other hospital and hazardous wastes.
The consignee, Verde Soko Philippines Industrial Corp., also failed to secure an import permit from the DENR.
An initial batch of garbage-filled containers, weighing 1,400 tons, was sent back to South Korea in January, but the return of the remaining 5,177 metric tons has been undergoing several delays.