Canada Prime Minister whisked away from adoring Manila crowd
(The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to be whisked away from a summit by police bodyguards last Thursday as hundreds of excited journalists and staff swarmed around him in a bid to take photos and say hello.

Trudeau, a charismatic young politician who won Canada’s election last month promising “sunny ways” and respect, has generated rock star-like enthusiasm this week during meetings in Turkey and Manila.

As he left a news conference at the end of an Asia-Pacific summit, dozens of mainly young local reporters and conference staff gathered around him in a hallway.

Trudeau initially smiled and waved and shook a few hands, but the crowd suddenly grew larger and he was soon surrounded by a couple of hundred people taking pictures and shouting his name.

“He held my hand!” shrieked one woman. Another woman broke away, looking close to collapse.

The prime minister started to look nervous and his bodyguards formed a tight group and rushed him out of the conference center, shutting the doors behind them.

“Things got out of hand. But we expected it because he is one of the best-looking delegates,” said security officer Rico Mojica, who asked a friend to take a video of Trudeau while he tried to pacify the crowd.

Trudeau escaped unscathed and waved to a few more people before climbing into his official limousine and driving off.

“He’s so cute - and very intelligent,” gushed local reporter Katherine Imson when asked why she had joined the crowd.

Trudeau is the son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and has been in the public eye all his life.

At the news conference a few minutes earlier, asked about the public adulation he generated, Trudeau said he had long learned how to ignore people’s perceptions of him.

“There were a lot of people who liked my father and liked me for reasons that were entirely unrelated to who I actually was and I had to learn to set aside positive impressions that were not grounded in reality,” he said.

‘Canadian solution to waste issue’

Meanwhile, Trudeau did not issue specifics with regard to the trash exported to the Philippines by a Canadian firm in 2013, but admitted that the issue requires amendments to some laws of Canada.

When asked last Thursday if he is taking action on the matter, Trudeau said: “I have obviously been made aware of the situation and I’ve also been told that there is a Canadian solution in the process of being developed.” 

“But, at the same time, I know that this has exposed a problem that needs fixing within our own legislation that we’re going to lean into and make sure happens,” he added. 

Trudeau did not elaborate on the “Canadian solution” being crafted to resolve the issue, which has sparked outrage among Philippine officials and environmental advocates. He also did not say if the Canadian government is ready to take back the trash.

Despite his vague statement, Trudeau acknowledged the need to ensure that a similar situation will not happen again. 

“The Canadian government has more power to actually demand action from the companies responsible,” the Canadian leader said.

“I believe there are loopholes here that were allowed to be skirted that we need to make sure we close, both for Canada’s interest and for our good relationships with our neighbors,” he added. 

In 2013, Valenzuela-based company Chronic Plastics Inc. imported more than 50 shipping containers with trash from Canada. More than half or 29 of the containers were dumped in a landfill in Tarlac, the home province of President Aquino.

Last year, the Bureau of Customs filed a smuggling case against Chronic before the justice department and accused the company of misdeclaring household garbage as plastic scrap.

The garbage from Canada has been rotting in the Bureau of Customs’ premises.

The storage of shipping containers filled with trash alone has cost the Philippine government around P66 million. The cost of disinfecting it has been pegged at P18,000 per container, on top of the cost of moving the trash to a treatment site, which is P8,000 per container. 

All in all, disinfection would cost the Philippine government around P2 million for shipping containers still in Manila.

Lawmakers and environment advocates have called on Canada to take back the trash even as they expressed fear that the shipment might have contained toxic materials.  

Sen. Francis Escudero said the government cannot afford to wait for Canada to act on the trash that it sent to the country and should work on getting rid of it at the soonest possible time. 

While Trudeau’s statement about the efforts of Canada to come up with a solution was welcome, Escudero noted that there is no actual commitment from Trudeau about taking back the garbage.

“I appreciate his comment and thank him for his effort. However, the fact remains that the trash is here and we are left to fend for ourselves and spend our own money to dispose it despite the clear treaty obligation of Canada to get it back at their expense,” said Escudero, who chairs the Senate committee on environment and natural resources.

Escudero cited the Basel Convention, ratified by the Philippines and Canada, which prohibits the transboundary movement of waste. It also obliges the country of origin to take back its waste in an environmentally sound manner, without transferring the cost of managing such waste to the country of import or transit. 

Escudero said the shipment of garbage to the Philippines also violates the Philippines’ Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990. 

“If the Philippine government has given up on compelling Canada to take back its trash, then it should start addressing the problem now. What is the Philippine government’s course of action in the face of the environmental and health hazards posed by this Canadian garbage that is rotting on the Bureau of Customs’ premises?” he said. 

“We cannot just sit around while Canada strives to find a legislative solution to the problem. The trash is here; we are here, and obviously, we are expected to deal with it,” he added.

 ‘Philippines failed to push climate agenda in APEC’

The Philippines has also failed to push a stronger climate agenda among member economies of APEC, a group advocating climate justice said.

Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), said the leaders’ statement fell short on its commitment to address climate change.

“The Philippines should have been more ambitious in terms of asserting its stand,” Arances told The STAR yesterday.

He noted the lack of commitment of the APEC member-economies to push for a climate agreement seeking to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. And “as host, we have the opportunity to do that.”

The Philippines, which sits as president of the Climate Vulnerable Forum composed of countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, is among those pushing for the ambitious 1.5 degree target, instead of the initial goal of not over 2 degrees.

Arances said the Philippines could have urged the APEC member-economies to commit to such target, instead of a “vague wording that falls short of what is necessary” to address climate change.

In its statement, the APEC leaders committed to achieve “a fair, balanced, ambitious, durable and dynamic agreement on climate change at the Paris Climate Conference in December.”

“We reaffirm our aspirational goals to reduce aggregate energy intensity by 45 percent by 2035 and double renewable energy in the regional energy mix by 2030 to achieve sustainable and resilient energy development within the Asia-Pacific,” they added.

But according to Arances, the 45 percent reduction of energy intensity is not enough, noting that the leaders’ concept of “ambitious” may actually be different from climate justice advocates.

“Our measure of ambitious, fair, just is far more ambitious that they’ve laid out,” he added, stressing that rich and industrialized nations should be carbon-free by 2030.

The APEC leaders also committed to phase out medium-term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.

Arances said such a statement has loopholes, noting that coal power plants are still being constructed, for instance here in the Philippines, under the guise that it is a form of “clean coal.”

The PMCJ also hit the leaders for affirming the use of nuclear power as a possible source of energy. 

Concerned about hostages’ safety

Trudeau has also expressed concern over the recent kidnapping of three foreigners, including two Canadians, and a Filipina by the Abu Sayyaf.

“Obviously, I am concerned with the situation and have been briefed on the situation, and certainly hope for a peaceful resolution,” Trudeau said in a press conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation International Media Center last Thursday.

The Canadian leader did not elaborate on what he meant about “peaceful resolution.”

Trudeau, however, vowed to work with other leaders to combat terrorism in the wake of the attacks in Paris last week that killed 129 people.

“Obviously, when leaders gather within a week of such a terrible and tragic attack in Paris, it becomes a topic of conversation and we all came together to reassert our commitment to work together to fight extremism and terrorism,” Trudeau said.  

“And I was pleased to see so many Muslim leaders speak up against this extremism that isn’t a reflection of Islam,” he added.  

Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall along with Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Maritess Flor were abducted by about 20 armed men at the Ocean View Resort in Samal Island off Davao Oriental last Sept. 21.

The Abu Sayyaf is demanding a P4-billion ransom for the release of the victims.

An 87-second video showing the hostages with their captors has been uploaded online but security officials have yet to comment on whether it was authentic. – Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy, Janvic Mateo       

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