The Philippines has recalled its ambassador and consuls to Canada due to a growing dispute over containers filled with garbage that were shipped from Canada to Manila six years ago.
The containers, which were shipped by a private company, are labelled as recyclables but were discovered to be filled with garbage, and have been sitting, rotting, in Manila ports ever since.
The diplomats were recalled after Ottawa missed the May 15 deadline that the Philippines had set for shipping the garbage out of Manila, Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. tweeted Thursday.
“At midnight last night, letters for the recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out. They are expected here in a day or so. Canada missed the May 15 deadline. And we shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there,” the tweet reads.
At midnight last night, letters for the recall of our ambassador and consuls to Canada went out. They are expected here in a day or so. Canada missed the May 15 deadline. And we shall maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada until its garbage is ship bound there.
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) May 15, 2019
Canada’s foreign ministry said it is disappointed by the move, and that the Canadian government was committed to removing and disposing of the garbage in the containers.
“Canada is disappointed by this decision to recall the Philippines ambassador and consuls general,” the department said in a statement. “However, we will continue to closely engage with the Philippines to ensure a swift resolution of this important issue.”
Over 100 containers labelled “plastics” from Canada are sitting in two Manila ports. They were shipped there during 2013 and 2014 for recycling, but once inspected, it was determined that over half the containers were actually filled with regular trash, including household waste, electronics, and non-recyclable plastics.
Shipped out of Vancouver by a private company, 34 of the containers were disposed of locally, but the other 69 have been rotting in Manila ports for the past six years.
The Philippines has been increasingly adamant about Canada taking the garbage back, with even a court order from 2016 demanding the containers be returned.
In late April, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to set sail to Canada and return all the garbage if the issue wasn’t resolved.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing our or I will set sail to Canada and dump the trash there,” Duterte said, according to Philippine News Agency.
“Let’s fight with Canada. We’ll declare war against them. We can handle them. I’ll return the trash. Just wait and see.”
An official later clarified that the war threat was just meant to convey how upset the government is about the matter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the Canadian government will continue to work on the issue.
“We very much hope to get a resolution shortly,” Trudeau said in Paris.
Canada had initially tried to either convince the Philippines to dispose of the trash locally or find another nearby country willing to take it, rather than shipping it all the way back to Vancouver. Neither option was a success.
In 2018, a working group between the two countries was formed to try and find a solution; one of the issues was who would pay for the containers to be shipped. Two weeks after Duterte’s threat, the Canadian government agreed to pay the full cost of bringing the 69 containers back to Canada, but did not specify when it would happen.
Canadian MP Kevin Lamoureux, who chairs a parliamentary friendship group between Canada and the Philippines, says the ongoing spat between the two countries is both embarrassing and unlikely to end soon.
“I’m disappointed that we were not able to try to get this thing resolved before the May 15 deadline but it just wasn’t possible,” he said.
Lamoureux said he met with the ambassador from the Philippines in Ottawa Monday about the issue, and she warned him that her government was serious about forcing an end to the dispute.
After Canada agreed to cover the costs of the shipping, Philippine authorities moved quickly to issue export permits and have the containers inspected for seaworthiness, and Philippine officials blame red tape in Canada for delaying the movement.
Lamoureux said Canadian laws mean the garbage simply couldn’t just be moved overnight. He said Canada issued a public tender Monday seeking a company willing and able to bring the garbage back. Canada put a “national interest” tag on it to reduce the deadline for filing bids to just seven days, so it closes next week, he said.
Lamoureux said he is hoping there will be a decision within two weeks and that the garbage will be Canada-bound before the end of June.
With files from the Canadian Press