Philippine Daily Inquirer | 25 October 2006
RP-Japan accord ‘toxic’
Swap of health workers for hospital waste
By Blanche Rivera
A NEW DUMP for toxic waste may soon open for Japan — and it has 7,100 islands.
This is how concerned environmentalists see the likely effect of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed on Sept. 9 in Helsinki on the side of the Asia-Europe Meeting.
In exchange for the export of nurses and caregivers, the Philippines will allow the entry of toxic and hazardous waste under the JPEPA, according to environmentalists.
The top Philippine negotiator in the trade talks, Senior Trade Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino, told the Inquirer that the accord covered a broad range of products. But only regulated waste would be allowed into the country once the pact is ratified by the legislatures of the two countries and goes into effect, Aquino said.
This is the first time a bilateral trade and investment agreement will include and encourage trade in hazardous waste, including the highly toxic incinerator ash, a practice banned by the Basel Convention to which the Philippines and Japan are signatories.
Former Environment Secretary Michael T. Defensor, now the presidential chief of staff, twice opposed the inclusion of hazardous and prohibited waste in the JPEPA.
Sought for comment yesterday on whether he maintained his position after the Helsinki pact, Defensor said in a text message to the Inquirer: “Yup. Still my stand but I’m sure Prez [President] wasnt able to read the details of that.”
Alarmed environmentalists and nationalist trade advocates are now scrambling to convince the Philippine Senate, the country’s treaty ratifying body, to reject the JPEPA when it is transmitted to Congress.
To them, the deal with Japan is simply an elaborate exchange of health care for health care waste.
“We are going to get poisoned here. We’re sending them healthy bodies, doctors and nurses who will take care of their health, and what do we get? Poison,” Green Initiatives Inc. chief executive officer Mimi Sison said in an interview.
Trade experts described the pact covering 11,300 tariff lines or commodities as a mega-treaty that could set the tone for future bilateral agreements.
A briefing paper prepared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) says 141 of these items are “environmentally sensitive products deemed potentially hazardous to health and the environment if not handled properly.”
RP can’t treat own waste
The Philippines, which has its own laws against the importation and transport of toxic and hazardous waste, is already struggling — often unsuccessfully — to dispose of and treat at least 2.5 million tons of locally generated hazardous waste each year.
“We cannot even handle our household waste, and we have no recycling industry,” said Sison.
The types of toxic and hazardous waste listed in the JPEPA were initially dubbed by the government as recyclable materials, which are legally traded goods.
Article 29 of the basic agreement of the JPEPA, however, stipulates that the trade covers articles “which can no longer perform their original purpose ... nor are capable of being restored or repaired and which are fit only for disposal or for the recovery of parts or raw materials.”
Scrap and waste derived from manufacturing or processing operations or from consumption which are, again, “fit only for disposal or for the recovery of raw materials,” as well as raw materials and parts “which can no longer perform their original purpose nor are capable of being restored or repaired” are also included.
Fit for disposal only
“How can you say this is for recycling if the agreement says they are only fit for disposal?” said Tanya Lat, Akbayan legal counsel and trade law expert who has been following the JPEPA negotiations.
Akbayan was one of the petitioners that asked the Supreme Court to compel the Department of Trade and Industry to provide the special committee on globalization in Congress with a copy of the JPEPA draft and to restrain the DTI from concluding or signing the JPEPA or transmitting it to the President until full disclosure had been made.
The Supreme Court failed to decide on the petition for mandamus and prohibition filed in December last year until Ms Arroyo and Koizumi signed the treaty in Helsinki.
The JPEPA is the Philippines’ first bilateral trade accord since the 1946 parity agreement with the United States. It is seen as a move to strengthen economic integration between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Japan is the Philippines’ No. 1 trading partner in Asia and No. 2 in the world. It is also one of the biggest providers of official development assistance to the Philippines.
“This is a new kind of agreement,” Aquino said during a hearing of the House special committee on globalization on Feb. 28, 2005.
A month after the unveiling of the JPEPA, environmentalists and nationalist trade experts were fuming over the inclusion of waste, like incinerator ash and health care discards, on the list of goods to be traded.
‘This is treason’
“It’s unspeakable ... this is treason,” Mother Earth founder Odette Alcantara said of the list of zero-tariff waste under the JPEPA.
Alcantara, whose group lobbied for years for the passage of Republic Act No. 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act, that banned incinerators in the country, said the JPEPA would defeat the law as it encourages the entry of the highly toxic incinerator ash.
“We did not pass the Clean Air Act only to import incinerator ash. That’s distorted. We banned incinerators here precisely so we would not have incinerator ash, and yet we’ll import it?” Sison said.
Metodio Palaypay, a waste management expert from the University of the Philippines, said there was a known technology to immobilize incinerator ash but it was not available in the Philippines because it was too expensive. The United States and Europe have the technology.
“There is no way you can recycle incinerator ash; it’s 20 times more toxic than what you put in,” Palaypay said.
In its briefing paper, however, the DENR stressed that no provision in the JPEPA explicitly allows the trade of banned items or liberalized entry of regulated products.
Environment Undersecretary Demetrio L. Ignacio said the environmentalists’ concerns were unfounded.
He said Republic Act No. 6969, or the Toxic Substance and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Act of 1990, prohibits the entry of hazardous waste into and their disposal within the country for whatever purpose, including transit. The law sets a penalty of 12 to 20 years imprisonment for violators.
“It (JPEPA) will not violate our laws in the sense that they (toxic and hazardous waste) will not be coming in because they are banned in the first place,” said Ignacio.
“The objective of the Philippines was to get the JPEPA approved, and the environment is not a concession actually because it has no effect on our laws, that’s why there is no harm, in other words,” Ignacio said.