DENR official to face raps for mishandling Canadian trash

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 29) — The Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to charge an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with graft charges for mishandling the shipment of container vans of a Canada-based company.

In a statement released Friday, the Ombudsman said DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations Juan Miguel Cuna violated Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

"Investigation uncovered that in 2013, Chronic Plastics Inc., a Canadian-based company, exported several shipments of container vans declared as plastic scrap materials without securing import entries for its shipment that arrived in July 2013 and August 2013," the statement read.

"Consequently, the shipment was declared as abandoned and upon further inspection, it was discovered that the container vans were filled with garbage," it added.

The statement revealed the DENR Environmental Management (EMB) found that the garbage were not recyclable and were declared illegal due to lack of importation clearances.

Cuna, who was the DENR EMB Director at the time, issued a Registry Certificate for the Importation of Recyclable Materials Containing Hazardous Substances, despite the lack of details in the importer's Registry Sheet.

He also issued six importation clearances to Chronic Plastics despite an existing notice of violation for the importation of heterogeneous and assorted plastic materials that violated a DENR order.

"Without the necessary information, the EMB cannot sufficiently make a determination that Chronic Plastics is capable of recycling materials to be imported. However, despite this, respondent Cuna still approved Chronic Plastic's application for registration," the Ombudsman Resolution stated.

According to the resolution, the EMB is mandated to "protect, restore, and enhance environmental quality towards good public health, environmental integrity and economic viability."

In a parallel administrative case, the Ombudsman had found Cuna guilty of Simple Misconduct and was ordered suspended without pay for three months. DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu was directed to implement the suspension order.

Meanwhile, Cuna told CNN Philippines he was advised by their lawyers not to issue any statements on the issue as there is a pending case in court.

In September 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said they had informed the Canadian government of 103 containers filled with waste were left in the Philippines by the Canadian company.

DFA Assistant Secretary Jesus Domingo said they had asked the Canadian government's help to remove the waste, but they were unable to do so because their laws prevented them from forcing the exporter to take back the garbage.

Canadian action?

During the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit on November 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the loopholes that allowed the incident to happen will be looked into.

Trudeau said he was "made aware" of the situation and that there was a "Canadian solution being developed."

READ: Trudeau commits to find solution to garbage issue

He added: "I know this has exposed a problem that needs fixing within our own legislation that we're going to lean into and ensure it happens."

When pressed about what kind of action could be expected, Trudeau said, "Well, I think going forward we need to ensure that if a situation like this were to arise again, that the Canadian government had more power to demand action from the companies responsible. I believe there are loopholes here that were allowed to be skirted that we need to make sure we close both for Canada's interest and good relationships with our neighbors."

Trudeau, however, made no mention of the garbage being returned to Canada.