Justin Trudeau was his usual charismatic self during his visit to the Philippines for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila this weekend.
The Canadian prime minister, dubbed a “heartthrob” in the country, charmed his Filipino “fans” by dropping by unannounced at a Jollibee, where he spent time posing for photographs and chatting with staff and customers.
Trudeau’s media blitz inside the popular local restaurant was reportedly meant to highlight the connection between the Philippines and Canada, where Jollibee recently opened a store to cater to the Winnipeg’s large Filipino population.
However, his brief fast food stopover also brought him within a close distance to a Canadian controversy that has angered many Filipinos.
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Environmental and public-health activists have long been protesting against the Canadian garbage since its arrival on Philippine shores about four years ago. Concerned parties have been calling on the Canadian government to repatriate the 2,500 tons of trash stored in 103 shipping containers, consisting mostly of soiled adult diapers, used plastic cups, and CDs.
Local media have reported that the shipments were sneaked into the country under the guise of recyclable plastics in June 2013. As the containers sat unclaimed for eight months, the stench emanating from them became impossible to ignore. Customs officials would later discover that they actually contained junk fit for a landfill. Deeming the shipments as hazardous, the agency has since impounded them.
Confronted by a local reporter about the issue during another Manila visit two years ago, Trudeau said that a “Canadian solution” was already in the works. He also vowed to make legislative changes to ensure nothing like it would happen again. At present, a significant portion of the garbage remains untouched, with apparently no solution being attempted.
According to Rappler, environmental justice advocates released a statement on Saturday, expressing “utter dismay” over the failure “to remove the tons of residual trash illegally sent to the Philippines from Canada under the guise of recycling.”
“The overstaying containers of contraband garbage shipments in our port provide a stinking evidence that the touted ‘Canadian solution’ is nothing but a hollow word,” activist priest Father Robert Reyes was quoted as saying.
Manila’s EcoWaste Coalition national coordinator Aileen Lucero lamented in 2015, “It’s two years already and the waste still remains here.” More recently, she noted that the photo-op brought the prime minister just within a hundred meters of the site.
“We insist that Canada should take their garbage back now,” Lucero said in a statement. “Canada is rich and unquestionably capable of managing its rubbish in a proper manner that will not jeopardize public health and the environment.”
EcoWaste Coalition is among the groups which filed a case against the importer and Chronic Plastics owner Adelfa Eduardo and customs broker Sherjun Saldon for violation of Republic Act 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990.
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