Dumping of US toxic wastes in Phl triggers anti-American rhetoric

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - Reports about the alleged dumping of hazardous wastes last month from US Navy ships off Subic Bay, in northern Philippine province of Zambales, has reignited renewed anti-American rhetoric in the Philippines.

Subic Bay, now a Freeport some 100 kilometers north of Manila, used to be a huge American naval base which, along with the nearby Clark Air Base, was closed down after the termination of the Philippine-US bases agreement.

The controversy started when the Malaysian shipping firm, Glenn Defense Marine Philippines, which was contracted to dispose of wastes materials from US Navy ships in the region, said that their work is covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The VFA provides the legal framework for regulating the presence of American military personnel and equipment in the Philippines.

Through its lawyers in the Philippines, the firm said that vessels, operated by or for the United States armed forces may enter the Philippines upon the approval of the Philippine government and their movements subject only to "mutually acceptable implementing agreements."

This reasoning has prompted some Philippine lawmakers and militant groups to call for the scrapping of the VFA and for a congressional inquiry into the reported dumping of toxic wastes in Philippine waters.

Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, described as "shameless" the stand of the Malaysian firm to hide behind the VFA to justify its actions.

The toxic wastes collected from US ships that participated in a recent joint military exercises in the country were allegedly dumped in Subic last month by MT Glenn Guardian, one of the vessels owned by the firm, based on records of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

On Oct. 15, SBMA Ecology Center personnel inspected Glenn Guardian, which was then docked at the Naval Supply Depot area in the Subic Bay Freeport due to a "hazard call" from another free port locator.

A copy of the SBMA report showed that the tanker was carrying some 189,500 liters of domestic waste and about 760 liters of bilge water (a combination of water, oil and grease), all of which were hauled from Emory Land, a US Navy ship.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, an acknowledged constitutional expert, Legarda and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, III, filed separate resolutions Monday calling for a legislative inquiry into the dumping incident.

Santiago said that assuming that the act of pollution by dumping hazardous wastes is within the concern of the VFA."It is clearly a breach of obligation under Philippine law against pollution from ships."

She said that it is emphatically a violation of the VFA itself, which provides in Article II that"It is the duty of the United States personnel to respect the laws of the Republic of the Philippines.. The Government of the United States shall take all measures within its authority to ensure that this is done."

The militant group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), called on President Benigno Aquino III to immediately terminate the VFA with the US following dumping of toxic wastes allegations.

In a statement, Renato Reyes, the group's secretary-general, said that the scrapping of the VFA'has now become urgent and necessary"because of the toxic waste disposal in Subic. "Even without formal US bases, such criminal destruction of the environment continues under the VFA," Reyes said.

Based on records, Glenn Marine Defense has serviced 37 US Navy ships for waste collection.

Reyes called on the Philippine government to immediately suspend all scheduled port calls by US warships to the country. On Oct. 24, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, docked in the Philippines. The super-carrier is 1,092 feet long, 257 feet wide and 244 feet high. It can accommodate 80 aircraft and carries more than 6,000 men.

This was the third time this year that a US nuclear-powered ship has made a port call in the Philippines.

Malacanang, the seat of the Philippine government, has categorically said that the alleged disposal of toxic materials does not fall under the VFA.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the Malaysian firm is a third party and, therefore, not covered by the VFA which is a government-to-government agreement.

Even US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas has said that the VFA does not apply to the Malaysian contractor but he said that his government is making its own inquiry on the reports.

"We oppose economic degradation, we oppose illegal dumping. We are aware of these allegations, the United States Navy is investigating," Thomas said over the weekend.

VFA Commission Executive Director Edilberto Adan also said that the Malaysian firm has a contract with the US Navy so"the Philippine authorities are out here."











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