Why has the Philippines threatened 'war' over Canadian garbage?

Environmental activists rally outside the Philippine Senate in Manila on September 9, 2015 to demand that scores of containers filled with household rubbish be shipped back to Canada and to push for the ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries. (AFP PHOTO)

Something is rotten in the Philippines, and Canada is entirely to blame, according to the country’s president.

This week, Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte made threats against Canada concerning an issue that’s been plaguing them since 2013 —2,500 tons of trash dumped by a Canadian company at a port near Manila.

In 2013 and 2014, more than 100 shipping containers were sent to the port, labelled as plastics meant for recycling. But after an investigation by Filipino customs officials, the containers were found to hold garbage with items like dirty diapers and spoiled foodstuffs.

How long has Canada known about the garbage?

The rotting Canadian trash is a well-known issue in the Philippines and has led to protests in the country, with activist pleading with Prime Minister Trudeau to finally take out the garbage.

In January, the EcoWaste Coalition wrote a letter to Trudeau asking him to address the trash, as he had previously promised to get rid of it in 2017.

The letter noted that South Korea took back 50 containers of garbage that were dumped by accident in 2018.

“The stark contrast between South Korea’s actions and Canada’s indifference to its dumped waste has captured public attention and stoked anger at what is viewed as both disrespectful and illegal conduct by Canada,” the letter stated.

Filipino environmental activists wear a mock container vans filled with garbage to symbolize the 50 containers of waste that were shipped from Canada to the Philippines two years ago, as they hold a protest outside the Canadian embassy at the financial district of Makati, south of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, May 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In 2014, the Filipino government suggested the Basel Convention, which prevents developed countries from shipping waste to developing nations, could be used to send the containers back to Canada.

While on a visit to Manila in 2015, Trudeau was asked about the situation and he said a “solution” was in the works.

Ottawa has been trying for years to convince the country to dispose of the garbage in the Philippines, to no avail. A Filipino court ruled in 2016 that the trash must be returned to Canada, creating a standoff.

What happened this week?

The garbage issue found a larger international profile after Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte made comments about the trash that captured global attention.

(AP Photo Bullit Marquez, File)

"I'll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out or I will set sail," said Duterte in a video broadcast through his office.

"I will declare war against them. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to."

"Your garbage is coming home,” he said.

Within 48 hours Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna announced that in the coming weeks, the government will be looking for a solution to finally get read of the tonnes of garbage.

At a press conference on April 24, McKenna said threats from Duterte don’t help the situation. "We also need to do this in a positive way. That's certainly the way we're going forward. It has been a file that's been going for a while. We're very close to finding a solution,” she said to media.

It’s unclear what a real solution will look like, but the profile of the issue has certainly been raised due to Duterte’s threats of war over the trash.