Wastes Ahoy?

Toxics and nuclear waste dumping still legal under JPEPA

Feature story - September 10, 2007
September 9 marks the anniversary of the signing of the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Helsinki, Finland.

Environmental health and justice activists satirized the famed flag-raising during the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II to mark the first Global Day of Action against Japanese Waste Colonialism initiated by environmental and civil society groups, which coincided with the observance of Japan’s Constitution Day.

There's a mantra that GMA and her trade and economic advisors use  when gathering support for the JPEPA ratification. "We will miss the boat." Exactly what boat they are referring to remains unclear to the  Filipino people who were kept in the dark for years. The contents of  this controversial agreement only came to light after it was signed by  President GMA and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last year in a land so far  away from the curious eyes of Filipinos despite the clamor for  transparency and a public discourse.

One of the issues that caught the public's attention was the  exceptionally long list of toxic wastes and substances in the  agreement that would enter the Philippines under a zero tariff regime. Some of the toxic and hazardous substances include municipal,  medical, and pharmaceutical wastes, industry scraps, incinerator ash  and residues, sewage sludge, slags, etc which contain extremely toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium,  polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) among others. PCBs, in particular,  was identified as one of the 12 dirtiest toxics and is subject of phase  out legislation globally under the Stockholm Convention for  Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which the Philippines ratified in  2004.

Also of grave concern is the inclusion of nuclear wastes and other  radioactive materials in the agreement such as spent (irradiated) fuel, uranium depleted of U235, uranium enriched in U235, natural  uranium and plutonium. There is still no real solution for dealing with  radioactive wastes. At the same time, it increases the risks from  terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation.

The exchange of diplomatic notes between Japan and the Philippines has not resolved the issue on toxic or nuclear waste dumping. These documents state that 'Japan would not be sending toxic waste to the Philippines as defined and prohibited under the laws of the Philippines and Japan, in accordance with the Basel Convention".  Essentially, the message here is that Japan can send toxic wastes to  the Philippines if the Philippine government allows its entry whether for recycling and/or disposal. Furthermore, nuclear wastes are not  covered by the exchange of diplomatic notes and would, therefore  pose additional risks to the communities whose lands become the  repositories of these wastes.

The Philippine government has been, on the whole, inutile in dealing  with ordinary municipal wastes, let alone toxic and radioactive wastes. The Basel Ban Amendment, which both countries have not  ratified to date, could have accorded us that added protection against toxic waste dumping. If both governments were serious in stopping  toxic trade, they must go beyond rhetoric and ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and delete the toxic and nuclear wastes and substances  from JPEPA annexes. Failing to do so would mean that the boats

loaded with toxics and nukes will soon end up in our shores  contaminating our waters, land and air and putting lives at risk.

If this is the boat that government is worried that we might miss, for  the sake of the Filipino people, I think we should just miss it. It's  merely another bankang papel (paper boat) and will only get us  nowhere, or worse than where we started.