“It’s not a question of who dumped the toxic waste. The question is whose toxic waste was dumped into our territory. Though Glenn Defense remains accountable for the act, the biggest accountability goes to the US and Aquino governments.” – Rep. Emmi de Jesus, Gabriela Women’s Party
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) is demanding that the United States Armed Forces should take responsibility for the toxic wastes in Subic. Reacting to reports that toxic wastes from US warships were being dumped in Subic, Bayan said one can never underestimate the dangers brought by the prolonged presence of US troops and ships in the Philippines.
Critics of the return of US military forces in the Philippines have also pointed out that it is precisely the continuing enforcement of the the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) that allows the US to continue using Philippine ports and bring in hazardous toxic wastes even as it escapes criminal liability.
Under the VFA, the Philippine government cannot even inspect US warships that bring hazardous materials in Philippine territory. Neither can the government determine if these ships carry toxic wastes. Based on reports, because of the US rebalancing toward Asia, more and more US warships have been docking in PH ports and the US plans to reposition 60 percent of its warships to Asia.
Newspaper reports Oct. 15 said the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Ecology Center personnel inspected MT Glenn Guardian, then docked at the Naval Supply Depot area because of a “hazard call” from another free port locator.
A copy of the SBMA spot report revealed 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.
On Oct. 16, a team from the Philippine Coast Guard’s marine pollution division led by PO1 Enrico Viuda, and SBMA Ecology Center personnel boarded Glenn Guardian and another vessel MT Glenn Enterprise to take water samples and examine whether the liquid waste was safe to be dumped into the sea. But SBMA sources said Edilberto Acedilla, captain of Glenn Guardian, told the team that the liquid wastes had been dumped at least 37 kilometers (20 nautical miles) from Subic Bay.
The company, through its lawyers, sent the SBMA a reply on Nov. 6 claiming that the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, not the government agency administering this free port, has jurisdiction over it.
More war ships mean more toxic wastes
Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes pointed out that the problem of toxic wastes is directly connected to the increasing number of naval ships in Subic.
“More US warships mean more wastes. Those responsible for the waste dump must clean up the mess and pay damages to the Filipino people.The use of private military contractors like Glenn Defense Marine Philippines is merely a ploy for the US government to escape any accountability. The US government has failed to clean up its toxic wastes when it still operated US bases in our country,” Reyes said.
Bayan has also called for a speedy probe into the operations of military contractors in the former American base and the firing of several officials.
“The US government is using private contractors so that it will not have any direct liability should there be problems with host countries. However, these private contractors arrogantly think that they are also insulated from any liability because they believe they are covered by the VFA. In the Subic waste dumping incident, we believe both the US government and its private contractor are liable,” Reyes said.
The people’s group is also demanding that officials of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement who think that a private contractor has no liability under the VFA should be fired.
“They are totally ignorant of the law and cannot be relied upon to defend PH sovereignty,” Reyes said. “There are other private military contractors operating in Subic doing the work of the US military. Are they all operating under the same assumption as Glenn Marine? The PH government must take a firm stand that these private contractors are not covered by the VFA. Also, the US government, being the one directly hiring the private contractors, should always be ultimately liable for any violations of PH laws. To say otherwise shows the patent lopsidedness of the VFA in favor of the US.”
VFA Com commits treason
For his part, Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said the Aquino’s stance on the toxic waste dumping issue exposes the extent of the erosion of the country’s sovereignty.
“No self-respecting nation will allow so-called ‘visitors’ to dump toxic waste in their country. This is clearly a violation of our nation’s sovereignty and an insult to our nation. It is appalling that our government is protecting the US military instead of our nation’s interests. The Palace is quick to condemn China’s threats but are meek as a lamb when it comes to US’ actual trampling of our rights,” he said.
Crisostomo argued that the VFACOM’s move to block investigations into the toxic waste dump is tantamount to treason.
“Even as we have regained the titles to former US military bases, such as Subic, foreign-owned defense ships have reclaimed these areas. Worse, the deployed troops enjoy impunity,” he said. “Glenn Defense Marine Asia should not use the VFA as a cover for their wrongdoing. It is precisely developments like this that justifies the immediate abrogation of the VFA. While US warships are dumping toxic or nuclear wastes in our waters they can say that they are not accountable to local authorities. This is the height of impunity,” he said.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus also expressed renewed alarm over the issue.
“As the US military beefs up its presence in the Asia Pacific region, our people and environment will suffer the consequences of their intrusion into our national sovereignty. We will be fodder for increased incidences of toxic waste dumping in the future; poor women and children will increasingly fall prey to abuse and exploitation by US soldiers in their pursuit of supposed ‘leisure and recreation.’ Worse still, we will be more drawn into regional conflicts that have nothing to do with our national interests but everything to do with US interests,” de Jesus said.
The lawmaker also slammed the Presidential Commission on the VFA.
“It’s not a question of who dumped the toxic waste. The question is whose toxic waste was dumped into our territory. Though Glenn Defense remains accountable for the act, the biggest accountability goes to the US and Aquino governments. Glenn Defense could not have taken the toxic waste off from the US navy ship without the approval of US military officials,” she said.
She added that by relegating the investigation of the incident to the SBMA, Malacañang is sending a signal that it does not consider the destruction of Philippine waters a crime of “particular importance.” She noted that the VFA allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over American military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are of “particular’ importance” to the Philippines.
De Jesus said she will file a resolution in Congress calling for the immediate suspension of the operation of Glenn Defense Marine Asia in the country pending the conclusion of an official investigation of the toxic waste dumping incident, and the withdrawal of US troops and warships from the Philippine territory.
Bayan Muna’s Teddy Casiño, in the meantime, has already authored House Joint Resolution 7, “A joint resolution terminating the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement” and House Resolution 1242, “A resolution strongly opposing the return of U.S. troops and military facilities in Clark or Subic or any part of the country under the pretext of the Visiting Forces Agreement in affirmation of the Filipino People’s historic rejection of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991.”
Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino has also filed House Resolution No. 2881 calling for investigations into the toxic waste dump. Palatino said the issue at hand does not only have to do with Philippine-US relations, “It means safeguarding our shores from becoming the toxic trash bin of foreign countries.”
The youth lawmaker said Glenn Marine Defense Asia violated Philippines laws, including Republic Act No. 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990 and Republic Act No. 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004.”
Storing, importing and bringing hazardous waste into the country’s territory is prohibited under RA 6969.
Finally, patriotic groups insist that the only solution to end toxic wastes in Subic is to junk the VFA. Bayan’s Reyes said the entire country will be better off without it and without the constant US military visits, exercises and virtual basing.
“The US government and its proxies will always find ways to exploit the unequal provisions of the VFA so that they could escape accountability.” Both the PH and US governments call these port calls by US warships as ‘routine’. We don’t know if by routine, they mean the routine dumping of wastes in our country. Under the VFA, we have no way of determining whether the ships bring in hazardous materials. The PH government is barred from inspecting US ships,” Reyes said.
Reyes said the long term solution to the problem of toxic wastes is to stop US military exercises and end US military presence in the country.
“The private military contractor should eventually be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. While the probe is ongoing, any scheduled Balikatan exercises, and any scheduled port call by US warships and submarines, should be suspended immediately. The Benigno Aquino III government must stop playing the role of US stooge and assert our national interest in this matter,” he asserted.