Palace: Recall of PH officials from Canada over garbage row a warning to cut ties

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 16 2019 01:37 PM | Updated as of May 16 2019 11:19 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The Philippines' decision to recall its representatives to Canada is a warning that diplomatic ties between the 2 nations may end over heaps of trash a private Canadian firm had illegally sent to Manila some 5 years ago. 

This, after Canada missed a May 15 deadline to retrieve the garbage from the Philippines.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines would maintain a diminished diplomatic presence in Canada "until its garbage is ship-bound there." 

"The fact alone that Secretary Locsin has recalled our diplomats there (Canada) shows that we are not only serious, but we're warning them that we're gonna sever diplomatic relations with them," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing.

"Their refusal to bring back the garbage to their shores is disruptive to our diplomatic relations," he said.

Panelo explained that Manila's recall order aims to persuade Ottawa to speed up the garbage retrieval process.

"That order of the recall is to persuade them to make it fast--the more the delay, the more personnel will be coming back," he said.

Canada, according to Panelo, said documentation issues were stalling the retrieval process.

In a statement, Canada's foreign ministry said it was "disappointed," but would continue to engage to resolve the issue.

"Canada has repeatedly conveyed to the Philippine government its commitment to promptly ship and dispose of the Canadian waste in the Philippines," the statement said. "We remain committed to finalizing these arrangements for the return of the waste to Canada."

Canada maintained that the waste, exported to Manila between 2013 and 2014, was a commercial transaction not backed by its government. It has since offered to take it back and the 2 countries were in the process of arranging the transfer.

The Philippine government had set a May 15 deadline for Canada to take back its garbage after President Rodrigo Duterte last month said he wanted the trash shipment returned to Ottawa's shores, even warning that the issue might spark a war. 

Over 100 containers of Canadian waste, consisting of household trash, plastic bottles and bags, newspapers, and used adult diapers, arrived in Manila in batches. The shipment was marked as recyclable scrap.

Trash from at least 26 containers have been buried in a Tarlac landfill.

Canada also earlier affirmed its commitment to take back the garbage.

“The Government of Canada remains committed to working with the Government of the Philippines and has made an offer to repatriate this Canadian waste. Canada and the Philippines continue to collaborate closely to resolve the issue,” its embassy in Manila said.

Canada is home to thousands of Filipinos and those of Philippine ethnic origin, numbering more than 800,000, according to data on the website of the Philippine Embassy in Canada. - with a report from Reuters