Government urged to go after those behind SoKor trash

A group of environmentalists on Wednesday urged the government to go after public officials and other people responsible in the smuggled garbage shipment from South Korea which arrived at a Mindanao port five months ago.

The shipment arrived at the Mindanao International Container Terminal in Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental in June 2018 and was consigned to Korean firm Verde Soko II Philippine Industrial Corp.

“Clearly, this is a violation of Basel Convention. First, the shipment contained mixed wastes; secondly, it was misdeclared, and third, it was mixed with e-waste,” said Ban Toxics campaigns and advocacy specialist Anna Kapunan, whose group condemned the shipment of plastic garbage from Pyongteak, South Korea.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal,  or Basel Convention in short, is an agreement designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.

In a statement, Ban Toxics said the importers clearly violated the environmental rights of Filipinos in Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental as they are exposed to potentially hazardous wastes from a foreign country.

It added that the incident defies the Basel Convention, an international treaty discouraging the transfer of wastes from developed countries to developing countries.

“We are appalled by the misinformation provided by the shipment’s consignee. Their documents declared that the cargoes contain plastic synthetic flakes when in fact it was full of assorted garbage, wood, and other waste materials. To add, the authorities claimed that the transaction lacks the documentary requirements needed to transport the said shipment,” the group stated..

The group urged the government to act against Verde Sokor and government authorities who consented to the consignment.

“As with our response to Canada’s waste, we likewise strongly call for the shipment’s return to South Korea. Now is the time for our government to forbid garbage imports from developed countries, and to protect the Filipinos’ rights to attain the highest possible quality of life and optimal health,” it added.

In February 2014, the Bureau of Customs filed criminal charges against a firm based in Valenzuela City for importing 50 40-foot container vans loaded with tons of waste materials from Canada.

Charged with smuggling before the Department of Justice were Adelfa Eduardo, owner, and proprietor of Chronic Plastics, a firm based in Canumay, Valenzuela City, and the company’s licensed customs brokers Leonora Flores and Sherjun Saldon.

Then Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla said the respondents violated Sections 3601 and 3602 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP); Republic Act (RA) 6969, otherwise known as the Toxic Substance and Hazardous Wastes and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990; and Article 172 in relation to Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

Republic Act 6969 bans the importation of hazardous materials into the Philippines while the TCCP holds an importer criminally liable for unlawful importations.

“It is very clear that these waste materials were shipped to the Philippines illegally. There were violations in the process for importation and misdeclarations made on paper. Moreover, we must be mindful of the threat to public health and safety that these wastes could bring to our people,” said Sevilla.

The container vans arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila International Container Port and were subsequently seized by Customs Police and operatives of the Enforcement Group after a spot inspection revealed that these contained used mixed and unsorted or “heterogeneous” plastic materials, including household garbage and even used adult diapers, and not homogeneous or recyclable plastic scrap materials as declared by the importer.

The importers even declared a total value of P3.9 million for 19 of the containers.

Chronic Plastic is a 150-man operation in Valenzuela engaged in the sorting and selling of recyclable materials shipped from Canada.

Customs officials identified the shipper as Chronic Inc. of 95 Regency Crescent Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

They said the shipment had no written approval from the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or his duly authorized representative as required by law.

In 2010, Customs agents also seized at the Port of Manila 13 container vans of iron and copper scraps from China on board s/s Uni Glory and consigned to Jowood Industries.

On record, the cargo was declared as mill scales but laboratory analysis by the Philippine Nuclear Institute on the samples indicated black powder composed of iron and copper scraps prohibited under the Basel Convention.

At the House of Representatives, a senior opposition lawmaker assailed the continued non-implementation of the pre-shipment inspection provision in the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act which has again allowed the entry of 51 container vans of garbage from South Korea into the country.

“This is a proof that we must immediately implement the pre-shipment inspection of all cargo and container vans at the point-of-origin,” Atienza said.

“Since Republic Act 10863 was signed into law in 2016, we have been calling on the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to implement this provision. But the BOC and the Department of Finance have been resistant to the idea. This is the only way that we can stop the uncontrolled entry of garbage and illegal drugs from all over the world. We simply cannot the continued footdragging of these two agencies” Atienza said.

Atienza also called on President Rodrigo Duterte to order the BoC and the DoF to immediately implement the pre-shipment inspection of all cargo and container vans at their ports of origin.

“We are banging on the doors of the BOC and the DOF. If they will not do their jobs, then maybe the President should step in and order them to do so. How hard is it to check the bill of lading of these shipments? If it says garbage and we still allow them to enter our ports, then we are stupid. Specially since this is the second incident in the last three years that our country has been turned into the dumping ground of the world’s garbage. It is ridiculous to think that nobody knew what was in those container vans. We suspect that money is probably involved, that’s why this isn’t being implemented,” Atienza said.

Atienza’s statement on the South Korea garbage came as Iligan Rep. Frederick Siao on Monday delivered a privilege speech condemning the entry of this garbage shipment at the Mindanao International Container Terminal in Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental.

In support to Siao, Atienza said“Now it appears that the shipment contained used syringes. What were these syringes used for? What if they contained contagious diseases and pathogens? We fully support Congressman Siao’s demand that the consignee, Verde Soko Philippines Industrial Corporation, and its shipper be made to pay for any and all expenses for the return of the garbage to South Korea.”

“We also support the filing of criminal charges against those responsible for this,” Atienza added.